March Blog hero 2560x500 1

Human/Nature: The British Roots of Arts and Crafts

CraftsmanCoverRuskin 650x765 copy 1


If there were any doubt as to who set Gustav Stickley on the Arts and Crafts path, the very first issues of his Craftsman magazine provide the answer. The premiere issue is dedicated entirely to the great English artist, artisan, and poet William Morris (1834 – 1896), while the second celebrates the art critic and intellectual, John Ruskin (1819 – 1900), whose ideas set the movement in motion.




RuskinCraftsman 650x765 1Nature, art, and society
Both men came from wealthy families, and money and education gave them wide exposure to art, culture, and the changes that were
underway in Victorian England in the mid-19th century. While specifically concerned with the “connections between nature, art, and society”, Ruskin became a committed social critic who saw moral dangers in the growing Industrial Revolution.

He feared that the division of labor in factory work separated the designer from the maker. Ruskin’s objection wasn’t to the use of machinery to aid production, but rather to the factory worker’s dehumanizing loss of dignity and loss of the ownership of his craft.


Master craftsman

MorrisCraftsman 650x765

William Morris embraced Ruskin’s views and set about putting his philosophy into practice. As factories disempowered the worker and quashed any sense of creative fulfilment, Morris undertook the opposite experience, personally studying and mastering as many types of art and design as he could. He also saw a decline in the quality of English decorative arts as a direct result of Victorian industrialization, and he was determined to reverse that trend. With a close circle of like-minded friends and artists, he established Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Company, a sort of artists’ collective that jointly produced decorative objects for the home and for churches.



Back to nature
By the 1860s, Morris began producing the work that made his reputation as a designer. With the aim of reconnecting the human with nature, he created wallpapers, tapestries, textiles, carpets, and ceramic tiles that brought the natural world vividly to life within the home. His richly colored organic patterns, combined with simple, honest furniture forms, defined the English Arts and Crafts movement—and made a profound impact on young Gustav Stickley in America.

WoodpeckerTapestry 650x765
Morris, Woodpecker Tapestry
WilliamMorrisWallpaper 650x765
Morris, Trellis Wallpaper
MorrisAcanthusWallpaper 650x765
Morris, Acanthus Wallpaper









The view north

In addition to Morris and Ruskin, other Brits came to impact Stickley’s approach to furniture design, most notably the Scots architect and designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868 – 1928) and his artist wife, Margaret MacDonald (1864 – 1933).

CharlesRennie 650x765

MacDonald 650x765Mackintosh and MacDonald were part of a burgeoning movement known as the Glasgow School, or Scottish Arts and Crafts. While sharing the English emphasis on simplicity and nature, the Scots were further influenced by Japanese art and Art Nouveau design. The Glasgow School embraced a more decorative, modernist style—seen in Charles’s exaggerated, pierced chair backs and lighting fixtures and in Margaret’s fanciful painted panels—that almost certainly caught the eye of Stickley designers like Harvey Ellis, whose style shows a very similar spirit.


MacDonaldWhiteRoseRedRose 650x765
MacDonald, White Rose and Red Rose
GlasgowChair 650x765
Mackintosh Centre, The Lighthouse, Glasgow
LanternDSmith 650x765
Willow Tea Rooms, Glasgow









Today’s tributes

The impact of British Arts and Crafts on Stickley is evident from the earliest Gustav and Leopold designs to the present day. Stickley’s adaptation of the Morris Chair,

GusBowArm 650x765
  Gus Bow Arm Morris Chair
Bungalow Garden
  Bungalow Garden Rug
Morris Lily Rug

while very much in the clean, unembellished American Arts and Crafts style, is undoubtedly an homage to William Morris, as are a number of hand-knotted rug designs inspired by his textiles and wallpaper patterns, including the new Curling Vine.


HighlandsTrestleTable 650x765
Highlands Trestle Table, Mackintosh Side Chair

As for the Scots, the Highlands Collection and Mackintosh Dining Chairs incorporate Mackintosh’s iconic pierced details and modern, elongated proportions, and rugs like Windyhill, Glasgow, and the new Rennie Tulip owe their inspiration to Charles and Margaret’s unmistakable, imaginative style.






 Windyhill Rug
p RU 1445RennieTulipIvory na s 681x1024 1
 Rennie Tulip Ivory Rug


While the two movements diverged in certain ways, a shared devotion to authentic craftsmanship and the embrace of nature means that British and American Arts and Crafts, even today, live beautifully side by side.







Additional sources:

“Introducing William Morris,” The Victoria and Albert Museum

“John Ruskin,” The Tate Museum`

“The Scottish Arts and Crafts Movement”

“William Morris”



Visit our download page to grab beautiful Stickley photography for your computer and phone. You’ll find calendar wallpapers for your desktop or laptop and artistic wallpapers for your mobile devices. We’ll keep adding more, so check back often!

1920x1200 November


Happy Birthday, Mrs. Audi!

November 5 marks the birthday of our CEO and Chair of the Board, Mrs. Aminy I. Audi. Who could have guessed that when she met her future husband, Alfred, and made the journey from her native Lebanon to America, they were setting so much recent Stickley history in motion?

2 Mrs Audi mag cover 2011


Eastwood Chair

This early example of an upholstered Arts and Crafts chair was such a favorite of Gustav Stickley’s that he kept one at both his Syracuse house and his Craftsman Farms home in Parsippany, New Jersey. This version, based on his original design, joined our Mission Collection in 1997 and is still going strong.

3 MI LivEastwood CROP


Creating Leopold’s Chair

See all the experienced hands that build this iconic piece in our Archdale, North Carolina, factory!

Play Video

More Posts

04 CraftsmenBanner

Crafting a Better Way

In a 1906 article in The Craftsman, you’ll find as good a summary of the Arts and Crafts philosophy as there is, written by Gustav

Read More »
Skip to content