The Great Exhibition of 1851 held in London was the event that triggered the Arts and Crafts movement. William Morris’s vision inspired the emergence of the Arts and Crafts movement in the 1860s. The movement began as a direct response to the Industrial Revolution, the after-effects largely seen and experienced in Britain as in other parts of the world.
The Arts and Crafts movement comprised various other artistic societies like the Exhibition society and the Arts Workers Guild (set up in 1884) along with craftspeople in small and large-scale manufacturing units. The movement did not have a single manifesto but rather many varied principles. A few of them are as follows: faith in craftsmanship and enhancing the true qualities of the material, biophilia as an integral source of inspiration, and the importance of coherence, clarity, convenience, and beauty. The movement impacted architecture, fine arts, textiles, interior design, and jewelry.
The Arts and Crafts movement promoted and endorsed the artisans and their art. It also encouraged people to view artists in a better light: as designers, creators, and architects of the pieces they made. Morris also hoped that the movement would inspire and encourage more cottage industries and the labour force to take on such handcrafted work, increasing the demand for such handmade pieces while earning the artists their rightful sum. As much as Morris insisted on hand-done work, he acknowledged how labour-intensive and tedious it could get. He, therefore, was not entirely averse for using mechanical tools and equipment. He also threw light upon how boring and repetitive tasks in the mass-production units could be and how handcrafted pieces would give one the pleasure and satisfaction accompanied by the uniqueness of the outcome. He also brought to everyone’s notice how craft-based production could help one be involved from the very nascent stages of the work till the very execution and assembly.
Various artists and craftsmen world over joined this movement. Most of the people involved in the Arts and Crafts movement, including Morris, were architects. Various artists, craftsmen, architects, and the like supported this movement and endorsed it. Influential men like Charles Robert Ashbee, Charles Francis Annesley Voysey, Greene and Greene, the Roycroft community, Philip Webb, Edwin Lutyens, Charles Voysey, William Lethaby, and Frank Lloyd Wright to name a few. This gave a rise to a sense of community and belonging while also ensuring that like-minded people came along to propagate and promote this movement further.
This movement naturally trickled into the design and furniture industry as well. Furniture design/ furniture-making as an industry has evolved to support the various needs of mankind. Furniture must not only serve the utility aspect but also the aesthetic requirements of the client. There are various kinds of furniture namely: modern, minimalistic, heritage and vintage, traditional, contemporary, artistic, bohemian, and so on and so forth.
This movement encouraged people to opt-out of buying mass-produced furniture and instead give the artists a chance to work on exclusive pieces. It gave a lot of importance and impetus to hand-done, labor-intensive work
The furniture done in this style is very linear with a lot of straight lines. The lines are generally smaller and thinner in nature. The highlights in this work mainly include inlays, carvings, and a bunch of other decorative and ornamental elements. The furniture in this style can also oftentimes appear to be stretched, and elongated. Styles like Art Nouveau, the Aesthetic Movement, and Mission/Craftsman style also happen to show similar attributes as the Arts and Crafts movement and can often be confused.
Importance was largely given to the materials as well as the form one could easily obtain from the material. Materials generally used in this style mostly include wood and metal. Darker colored or stained wood is seen to be widely used. The shape and patterns chosen were often simple yet ornamented and were widely inspired by nature.
The movement generated employment opportunities for many and had a significant impact on the economy. The movement subsequently encouraged the participation of students, amateurs, men, and women alike in the hope that it would encourage more people to view it differently while simultaneously ensuring that the crafts are kept alive. Art schools across Britain supported and aided the propagation of this movement.
In the last decade of the 19th century, the Arts and Crafts movement spread to the large cities of Birmingham, London, Manchester, Glasgow, and Edinburgh in Britain. This style gradually spread to Europe, North America as well as other parts of the world. It gave the artists, craftsmen, and designers a new zeal to work with whilst also giving their work its fair share of adulation.
The Arts and Crafts movement reinforced the belief in authenticity to design and also gave the rightful credibility to their workmanship. The ethos of the movement, therefore, is valued and valid even today.
- Arts and crafts: an introduction. Victoria and Albert Museum. [online]. Available at: https://www.vam.ac.uk/articles/arts-and-crafts-an-introduction [Accessed date: 12/04/2022].
- Pamela Wiggins (2019). The Spruce Crafts. [online]. Available at: https://www.thesprucecrafts.com/the-arts-and-crafts-movement-148817 [Accessed date: 13.04.2022].