Stickley, Gustav

Stickley, Gustav,

1858–1942, American furniture designer, b. Osceola, Wis. Probably the best-known American associated with the arts and craftsarts and crafts,
term for that general field of applied design in which hand fabrication is dominant. The term was coined in England in the late 19th cent. as a label for the then-current movement directed toward the revivifying of the decorative arts.
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 movement, Stickley ran a Binghamton, N.Y., chair factory in the 1880s. Around the turn of the century he began producing a line of sturdy, functional, and comparatively affordable oak pieces. Often called mission furniture, they celebrated simplicity and function over complexity and ornament. Stickley founded (1901) the Craftsman Workshops in Eastwood, N.Y., and established a monthly magazine, The Craftsman. His workshops were especially noted for their reclining Morris chairs; they also produced a wide variety of other furniture and metalware, lighting fixtures, and other decorative accessories. Several of his brothers and others produced furniture in a similar style. Stickley also created designs for a series of relatively inexpensive homes. After an overly rapid expension, he went into bankruptcy (1915) and mission-style pieces soon went out of style. In the latter part of the 20th cent. Stickley's work again became popular as appreciation for the arts and crafts aesthetic resurfaced. His original pieces now command high prices never envisioned by their creator.


See his Craftsman Homes (repr. 1995); biography by B. Sanders (1996); studies by J. C. Freeman (1966), J. J. Baravro (1982, repr. 1996), M. A. Smith (1983), A. P. Bartinique (1992, repr. 1998), M. Fish (1997 and 1999), M. A. Hewitt (2001), and K. W. Tucker (2010).

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Stickley, Gustav

(1858–1942) furniture craftsman, designer, editor; born in Osceola, Wis. Son of a stonemason, he learned and practiced the trade until about 1875 when he went to work in an uncle's chair factory in Brandt, Pa. By 1880 he had taken over the firm, and, with his younger brothers Charles Stickley and Albert Stickley, formed Stickley Brothers, a furniture manufacturing firm, which they moved to Binghamton, N.Y., in the 1880s. Gustav at one point became involved with promoting electric streetcars—and was evidently the first to operate one in the U.S.A.—but he concentrated his energies on improving the design of furniture and homes, not just for aesthetic reasons, but also because he believed that his new functionalism would improve the lives of both the workers and users of his products. In this he was influenced by the ideas of the Englishmen John Ruskin and William Morris, and the British Arts and Crafts movement, and in the late-1890s he traveled in Europe to observe the new styles. On return, in 1898 he started a factory in Eastwood, N.Y., where furniture was made—using machines when feasible—in a style he called "Craftsman": mostly "fumed" oak, plain rectilinear lines, usually leather for seats, simple finish. After being exhibited at a trade fair in 1900, the new furniture came to be widely known as "Mission style," because it looked like the furniture made for the Catholic missions in the Southwest, although Stickley himself claimed the name arose because his furniture was designed to fulfill its "mission of usefulness." (In the spirit of medieval craftsmen, he placed his motto on his furniture, als ik kan, —"as I can"—borrowed from the 14th-century artist Jan van Eyck.) In 1901 he founded a magazine, Craftsman, to promote his ideas about home furnishings and social reforms; he remained its publisher and editor until it stopped publication in 1916. In 1902 Craftsman began printing home designs, usually for small bungalows with built-it furniture; mail-order firms such as Sears, Roebuck sold the complete materials for building these. Stickley, meanwhile, after briefly turning his company into a profit-sharing cooperative (1901–05), greatly expanded his manufacturing capacity, established his corporate headquarters in the Craftsman Building in New York City, and in 1908 established Craftsman Farms in New Jersey as a model for growing and serving food. The Craftsman movement seemed to be everywhere, but in 1915 his overextended empire collapsed into bankruptcy as a result of World War I and changing tastes, and Gustav Stickley never regained his influence. Two of his brothers, Leopold and J. George Stickley, who had already been making furniture in Gustav's style in Fayetteville, N.Y., purchased his factory at Eastwood and continued making furniture under the Stickley name.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.