In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, heavily ornamented, often factory-made furniture caused some people to seek simpler forms that were more expressive of the handcrafted furniture of pre-industrial times. more

In the World

  • 1876Battle of Greasy Grass (Custer’s Last Stand)
  • 1893World’s Columbian Exhibition, Chicago
  • 1918World War I ends

In Massachusetts

  • 1870Founding of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
  • 1876Alexander Graham Bell invents the telephone
  • 1919Great Molasses Flood in Boston

Reaction and Reform

The Arts and Crafts Movement, 1870-1920

Following the lead of English authors and theorists such as John Ruskin and William Morris, practitioners of the arts and crafts reform movement in America sought a return to the ideal conditions of pre-industrial life. They sought to reunite the designer and craftsman, and took joy in the creation of “honest,” simple objects, rejecting what was seen as the overblown, over-ornamented travesty of factory-produced objects.

The Society of Arts and Crafts, Boston, was incorporated in 1897 in order to “bring Designers and Workmen into mutually helpful relations, and to encourage workmen to execute designs of their own.” The Society strove to foster in craftsmen “an appreciation of the dignity and the value of good design” and to counteract what was seen as “the desire for over ornamentation and specious originality.” In terms that plainly reveal the drive for new simplicity, the Society determined to “insist upon the necessity of sobriety and restraint, of ordered arrangement, of due regard for the relation between the form of its object and its use, and of harmony and fitness in the decorations put upon it.” A similar group was soon started in Deerfield as the tenets of the movement gained momentum.

One leader of the new movement was Francis H. Bacon, who designed furniture for A. H. Davenport and Company. His pieces were often used in architectural commissions by the firm of the famous architect Henry Hobson Richardson. As the arts and crafts movement took hold, other Massachusetts craftsmen and designers followed Bacon’s lead, often producing objects that were redolent of the colonial era that was so beloved by the state.

Selected Bibliography

  • Bakker, Keith. “H.H. Richardson’s Furnishings.” In The Makers of Trinity Church in the City of Boston, ed. James F. O’Gorman, 83-103. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press in association with Trinity Church in the City of Boston, 2004.
  • Cooke, Edward S., Jr. “”The Aesthetics of Craftsmanship and the Presence of the Past”: Boston Furniture-Making and Wood-Carving.” In Inspiring Reform: Boston’s Arts and Crafts Movement, ed. Merilee Boyd Meyer, 58-69. Wellesley, Mass.: Davis Museum and Cultural Center, 1997.
  • Farnam, Anne. “A.H. Davenport and Company, Boston Furniture Makers.” Antiques 109, no. 5 (May 1976): 1048-55.
  • Farnam, Anne. “H.H. Richardson and A.H. Davenport: Architecture and Furniture as Big Business in America’s Gilded Age.” In Tools and Technologies: America’s Wooden Age, ed. Paul B. Kebabian and William C. Lipke, 80-92. Burlington, Vt.: Robert Hull Fleming Museu, University of Vermont, 1979.
  • Kaplan, Wendy, et al. “The Art That is Life”: The Arts and Crafts Movement in America, 1875-1920. Boston: Little, Brown for the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, a New York Graphic Society Book, 1987.
  • Meyer, Merilee Boyd, et al. Inspiring Reform: Boston’s Arts and Crafts Movement. Wellesley, Mass.: Davis Museum and Cultural Center, 1997
  • Prouty, F. Shirley. Master Carver from Germany’s Passion Play Village to America’s Finest Sanctuaries: Johannes Kirchmayer, 1860-1930. Foreword by Gerald W.R. Ward. Portsmouth, N.H.: Peter E. Randall, 2007.

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