GUSTAV STICKLEY: AMERICAN CRAFTSMAN- a Delightful Documentary by Herb Stratford

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Caption: One of the filming locations for the film, The Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms in New Jersey. This used to be Stickley’s former farm which now showcases his work and invests visitors to appreciate his legacy.

Gustav Stickley is perhaps the most nationally and internationally recognized name among American furniture designers and manufacturers. His pivotal contribution to the rise of the American Arts and Craft Movement is unprecedented and earned him an honorary seat in the pantheon of great American men and women. Stickley for the United States is like Thomas Chippendale for Grate Britain or Michael Thonet for Austria. His career has been like a roller coaster ride, with ups and downs, twists and turns, but always on the right path to advance our field, making valuable furniture to use, admire, respect and appreciate. In a recent documentary by Herb Stratford, we learn about Stickley’s rise to fame, his role as a leader in the American Arts & Crafts Movement, his original furniture design and aesthetic philosophy, and even his experimental work on furniture finishes. .

Gustav Stickley Morris chair from the April 2011 issue of Popular Woodworking

Influenced by luminaries such as philosopher John Ruskin and the arts and crafts utopian William Morris, and in a tight turn from the ornate and curvy fashion design of his time, Stickley began making furniture that had rectilinear designs, formidable structure and pronounced carpentry. Starting in the late 1800s using dark-colored quarter-sawn oak and proportionately heavy pieces, Stickley carved out an entirely new style of furniture, tables and chairs that literally went against the grain of the furniture of his time. Then in the early 1900s and in collaboration with architect and delineator (illustrator) Harvey Ellis he created some of the most elegant pieces ever made in the Arts & Crafts style. These later pieces were a distillation of Stickley’s earlier work: lighter, thinner, and with less emphasis on pronounced joinery. The Stickley-Ellis collaboration produced more complex designs that incorporated subtle accent inlay decoration, openness of shapes and elevated proportions.

In the documentary, Stratford guides us through the landmarks of Stickley’s career. He invites us into Stickley’s homes and workshop, exposes us to his designs and projects, his successes and disappointments, and makes us rediscover and appreciate one of the iconic furniture designers and influencers of recent history.

To watch / stream the documentary, visit this website:

And to learn more about Arts & Crafts furniture check out Nancy Hiler’s excellent book English art and craft furniture or check out the Gustav Stickley tag on Popular Woodworking.

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