Gustav Stickley created the first truly American furniture, known throughout the world as Craftsman. A hardworking, dedicated man, Stickley achieved success in the early 1900s as the leader of the Arts & Crafts Movement in America.
In the 1880s, Charles, Albert and Gustav started Stickley Brothers, in Binghamton, New York. Albert left and established the Stickley Brothers Furniture Company with John George in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1891.
After a trip to England in 1897 Stickley was inspired by British reformers, John Ruskin and William Morris to create a new line of handcrafted furniture based on honesty and simplicity. In 1898 he opened United Crafts in Eastwood, New York where he introduced his Craftsman line which, by 1900, reflected an indigenous American Arts & Crafts philosophy. His quarter sawn oak furniture incorporated overt structural details such as tenon-and-key construction, chamfered boards, and exposed tenons. His rectilinear shapes were free of any excess ornamentation except for what occurred naturally in the construction, design and material. This revealed not only the excellent craftsmanship that went into each piece, but also the beauty simplicity, and utility of the design. Gustav occasionally decorated his tabletops with Grueby tile and often used Grueby vases in his displays.
His trip to the 1900 Paris Exhibition confirmed his bias against reproductions. While taking his philosophical inspiration from the Arts & Crafts European movement, Stickley took his artistic inspiration from America. Stickley felt that art should be of and by the people, stemming from their everyday lives.
In October 1901, Stickley began publication of "The Craftsman". The first issue dedicated to William Morris, and the second issue dedicated to John Ruskin, clearly positioned the publication as the voice of the American Arts & Crafts movement. Gustav used "The Craftsman" to promote his architectural ideas. A house was to be constructed in harmony with its landscape, with careful attention to the selection of building materials. His open floor plan invited family interaction and eliminated barriers wherever practical. He encouraged built in benches, bookcases and sideboards to create a practical house, independent of total reliance upon furniture to make it useful and appealing. Groupings of windows allowed ample light inside and appealing views of the outside. These architectural elements were beautifully expanded on by Frank Lloyd Wright in the following decades.
In 1902, John George left Stickley Brothers Furniture Company to open the Onondaga Shops with Leopold in Fayetteville, New York, incorporating four years later as L. & J.G. Stickley, Inc. They made furniture that resembled Gustav's. They also made furniture that was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Gustav now found himself in competition with his younger brothers. Leopold and John George were astute businessmen who rapidly expanded their business using designs borrowed from their brother. Gustav lacked his brothers business acumen. He encouraged builders and artisans to alter his plans to suit their needs, which put money in their pockets and not in his. He eventually declared bankruptcy.
L. & J.G. Stickley introduced their first furniture line at a 1905 trade show in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Their collection of "simple furniture built along mission lines" was very well received and helped set the standard in fine American woodwork for the entire furniture industry through the end of World War I.
In 1922 Leopold Stickley announced the introduction of the Cherry Valley Collection; a "line of period designs in popular finishes." These adaptations of traditional New England and Pennsylvania furnishings included trestle tables, corner cupboards, dressers and Windsor chairs fashioned from wild black cherry wood from the Adirondacks.
The modern era of the Stickley company began in 1974 when Alfred and Aminy Audi purchased L. & J.G. Stickley. Today the company employs over 650 artisans and craftspeople, up from 25 in 1974. The Audis have steadfastly maintained the company tradition of pride, integrity and deep respect for the Arts & Crafts heritage that made Stickley famous.
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