Exhibition Charts the Rise and Relevance of the Arts and Crafts Design Movement
Austin, TX — A detailed look at the history of the Arts and Crafts movement is the focus of a new exhibition at The University of Texas at Austin.
Displayed at the Harry Ransom Center from Feb. 9 through July 14, 2019, “The Rise of Everyday Design: The Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain and America” examines how the ideas of Arts and Crafts reformers, influential to this day, transformed the homes and lives of ordinary people in the 19th and 20th centuries.
With more than 250 books, drawings, furniture pieces, decorative arts objects, photographs and advertising ephemera, the exhibition appeals to anyone with an interest in architecture and design, including professionals, enthusiasts and those interested in the antecedents of lifestyle branding and today’s maker movement.
It is organized into three main sections. “The Birth of the Arts and Crafts Idea” considers the founding ideals of designers and theorists in Britain, “The Arts and Crafts in America” shows how the principles of the movement crossed the Atlantic Ocean, and “The Postwar Legacy” explores the persistence of the American Arts and Crafts movement beyond World War II. This narrative highlights the contributions of Alice and Elbert Hubbard and The Roycrofters, William Morris and The Kelmscott Press, John Ruskin, Gustav Stickley, Frank Lloyd Wright, bungalow culture and a burgeoning do-it-yourself craft movement.
Visitors will learn how the movement’s theorists and makers spread their ideas through books, retail showrooms and world's fairs. Concerned with the daily realities of the Industrial Age, they used design to envision and promote a new and improved way of living.
The movement was transformed as its tenets of simple design, honest use of materials and social value of handmade goods were widely adopted and commodified by large companies. The exhibition explores how these objects, originally handmade and costly, came to be manufactured and sold to the everyday consumer.
Christopher Long, professor of history and theory in UT’s School of Architecture, and Monica Penick, associate professor in the Department of Design in the School of Design and Creative Technologies, curated the exhibition.
“The exhibition's distinction is its emphasis on the Arts and Crafts' transformation from a movement that made handcrafted objects for the well-to-do to a popular phenomenon of mass- manufactured, inexpensive pieces sold through retail outlets like Sears, Roebuck & Co.," Penick said. "The Arts and Crafts idea persisted long after it is usually said to have expired, well into the 1950s and 1960s. The Ransom Center, with its wide-ranging collections of both British and American art, architecture and design, is ideally suited to tell this story.”
Items from the Center's collections include hand-drawn designs and sketches by Ruskin and Morris, books and marketing materials of the Kelmscott and Roycroft presses, stained glass designs by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones and plates from Wright's Wasmuth portfolio. These are complemented by photographs, furniture and decorative arts objects from the university's Alexander Architectural Archives; the Dallas Museum of Art; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; and private collections.
“Viewers will see many objects that are seldom shown, including unique documents and rare sales catalogs and brochures,” Long said.
The exhibition “The Rise of Everyday Design: The Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain and America” is accompanied by a catalog of the same title. Published by Yale University Press in association with the Ransom Center and edited by Penick and Long, it features essays such as “The Kelmscott Press and the Modern Popular Book,” “The Arts and Crafts Knock-Off and U.S. Intellectual Property Law” and “The Sears Modern Home.”
Visitors can view the free exhibition on Mondays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with extended Thursday hours until 7 p.m. On Saturdays and Sundays the galleries are open from noon to 5 p.m. Free docent-led tours are offered daily at noon, Thursdays at 6 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m.