New Guilds Promote the Arts and Crafts Movement

The Arts and Crafts movement arose among professional artists and architects in response to the dehumanizing effects of mass production and industrialization and industrialism’s devaluation of handmade works. Members of the movement argued that good design, simplicity, and craftsmanship fostered individuality, worker integrity, and pride in one’s work.

Summary of Event

The Arts and Crafts movement arose in Victorian Great Britain in reaction to what was perceived by many architects, Architecture;and Arts and Crafts movement[Arts and Crafts movement] designers, and theorists as the harsh transformation of a heretofore agrarian society to one that was industrialized. In 1804, painter William Blake Blake, William spoke out against “the satanic character” of the mills that had been springing up throughout the country, and later, in Charles Dickens’s novels, the main characters were often the destitute workers in those mills. Critics argued that individualism and pride in one’s work had been destroyed by industrialization. Arts and Crafts movement
England;Arts and Crafts movement
Morris, William
Ruskin, John
[kw]New Guilds Promote the Arts and Crafts Movement (1884)
[kw]Guilds Promote the Arts and Crafts Movement, New (1884)
[kw]Promote the Arts and Crafts Movement, New Guilds (1884)
[kw]Arts and Crafts Movement, New Guilds Promote the (1884)
[kw]Crafts Movement, New Guilds Promote the Arts and (1884)
[kw]Movement, New Guilds Promote the Arts and Crafts (1884)
Arts and Crafts movement
England;Arts and Crafts movement
Morris, William
Ruskin, John
[g]Great Britain;1884: New Guilds Promote the Arts and Crafts Movement[5350]
[c]Art;1884: New Guilds Promote the Arts and Crafts Movement[5350]
[c]Architecture;1884: New Guilds Promote the Arts and Crafts Movement[5350]
Ashbee, Charles Robert
Lethaby, William Richard
Mackmurdo, Arthur
Crane, Walter

To restore what had been taken away, critics and artists such as John Ruskin and William Morris advocated replacing machine-made goods with those made by hand. Ruskin, in The Stones of Venice (1851-1853), was explicit in his hatred of machine-made products, labeling them as soulless and degrading and that which leaves workers without pride in their creations. Ruskin believed that the solution was a return to medieval art and to a time when craftsmen could take pride in their work.

A leader in the early stages of the Arts and Crafts movement, Morris wanted to apply Ruskin’s love of the handmade to modern commerce. Morris challenged manufacturers to move away from the heavily ornate, factory-made products that had appeared at the Great Exhibition of 1851 in the Crystal Palace, London. He proposed that simplifying design would raise standards, bring the designer and craftsman into a closer working relationship, and lower the cost of items to a more affordable level. Ruskin’s theories of a return to styles and customs of the medieval age, including restoration of the guild system, inspired Morris and his followers to develop not only an artistic style but also a lifestyle. This unashamedly utopian society would celebrate the individuality and integrity of craftsmanship and thereby improve the quality of life for all. Morris’s goal of restoring dignity to workers who had been robbed of pride and satisfaction in their work by Victorian commercialism led to a form of socialism and political activism that his followers took up in varying degrees.

John Ruskin.

There were a number of Arts and Crafts guilds created in the 1880’s. One of the first was the Century Guild, founded in 1882 by Arthur Mackmurdo. Mackmurdo, Arthur The Century Guild’s workshop produced furniture, metalwork, enameling, and textiles. One of the most important contributions made by the guild was the publishing of the journal The Hobby Horse, Hobby Horse, The (magazine) which, by emphasizing printing as a craft in its own right, was an important influence on Morris’s Kelmscott Press and others in the creation of the private-press movement.

Mackmurdo’s goals differed from those of Morris in one important respect. Morris, in a democratic spirit, thought to match the status of painting and sculpture as “fine arts” to that of the crafts, while Mackmurdo Mackmurdo, Arthur wanted to “lift” the status of crafts, which were considered of “lower” status, to that of the exulted fine arts. Although the Century Guild lasted a few years only, it had an important influence on the formation of the Arts and Crafts movement and, with its emphasis on natural forms in design, predicted the development of the later Art Nouveau style.

The Art Workers’ Guild was founded in London in 1884 by five architects—William Lethaby Lethaby, William Richard , Mervyn Macartney, Gerald Horsley, Ernest Newton, and E. S. Prior—and The Fifteen, a group of artists led by Lewis F. Day and Walter Crane Crane, Walter . Although the stated goal of the Art Workers’ Guild was to destroy barriers between the various practitioners of the arts (for example, artists, architects, designers, and craftsmen) in order to create artistic unity, the unstated goal was to oppose the Royal Academy, whose members refused to exhibit the crafts, and the Institute of British Architects, whose conservative members refused to recognize architects Architecture;and Arts and Crafts movement[Arts and Crafts movement] of the Arts and Crafts movement.

From its inception, membership (by election only) in the Art Workers’ Guild was restricted to men, and a committee chaired by a “master” set the rules and goals. By 1886, however, members recognized that the guild’s exclusive and private nature contradicted the organization’s aims, so the guild set out to establish closer contact with the public by holding annual exhibitions of what were then called “combined arts.” Book designer T. J. Cobden-Sanderson Cobden-Sanderson, T. J. had suggested the phrase “arts and crafts” be used instead. Thus, a new organization, with the name Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, was founded, with Walter Crane Crane, Walter as chairman and a committee that included William Morris and painter Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones.

The first exhibition of the new society was held in October, 1888, and invitations were sent to guild members and to the key personnel of manufacturing firms. The society’s goal was to create a favorable status for Arts and Crafts artists and designers and to put them in touch with leaders of industry. The first exhibition also featured lectures and demonstrations by various members of the guild, an approach that proved successful because most artists recognized the need for commercial survival and were reluctant to adopt the more radical socialist position of Morris, preferring instead to practice a romantic kind of socialism.

Following the success of this first exhibition, the society organized annual exhibitions at the New Gallery on Regent Street in London, a gallery event that became a popular showcase for Arts and Crafts objects. Exhibition acceptance was not limited to the society’s members, but all exhibitors were required to meet the strict criteria set down by the society, the most important being that all work must be entirely handmade.

Another organization founded to promote the Arts and Crafts movement was the Home Arts and Industries Association (1884), an umbrella organization that supported both professional and amateur work produced by a number of new, small workshops in largely rural areas. The association provided, also, a London showcase for the products of these workshops. By 1886, there were similar regional associations throughout Wales, Ireland, and Scotland. There existed some similarities between the rural craft revival and Morris’s urban commercial revolution, but, by and large, the home industries movement had little interest in Morris’s socialism, which they believed was a threat to their newly acquired social stability.

The Guild and School of Handicraft was founded in 1888 by the architect Architecture;and Arts and Crafts movement[Arts and Crafts movement] Charles Robert Ashbee Ashbee, Charles Robert . The guild’s headquarters were first in Essex House in the heart of London’s working-class East End. In 1902, the guild, which by that time consisted of more than one hundred members, moved to the rural environment of Chipping Campden in the Cotswolds, where it remained for the next six years. Ashbee’s goal was to achieve quality of design that, in his mind, depended upon good social conditions. In fact, more attention was given by the guild to developing good domestic conditions and leisure pursuits than to developing high standards of craftsmanship. Ashbee Ashbee, Charles Robert wrote, for example, that the real thing is the life and it does not matter so much if craftsmanship is second rate.


By 1907, the aesthetic ideals of the Arts and Crafts movement had been internationally recognized, helped by the many artists of the movement who had attained positions in established art schools as well as in the new art colleges that opened throughout England, continental Europe, and the United States. William Richard Lethaby’s Lethaby, William Richard philosophy of raising the standard of the craft arts while also providing an educational system for designers to enable them to meet the requirements of sympathetic commercial firms was being put to practical use.

In Edinburgh, Scotland, for example, the new School of Applied Art offered classes in both crafts Architecture;and Arts and Crafts movement[Arts and Crafts movement] and architecture. In Glasgow, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, architect and designer, created the Glasgow style with his designs for the Glasgow School of Art, a severe rectangular structure with long, simple curves and a plain, unadorned facade. He was also an important interior designer; his most famous work was the design scheme for the Cranston chain of tearooms in Glasgow.

In the United States, British Arts and Crafts influenced the work of the Roycrofters in upper New York state, a project under the leadership of Elbert Hubbard Hubbard, Elbert . Frank Lloyd Wright, considered by many the premier architect of the time, was deeply inspired by the British movement. In California, the brothers Charles and Henry Greene Greene, Charles
Greene, Henry created the first important architectural style called the California bungalow style Architecture;California bungalow style . Gustav Stickley, after a trip to England in 1898, where he was inspired by the theories of Ruskin and Morris, returned home to create the first truly American style in furniture Furniture design;American , his handcrafted craftsman line, which was based on honesty and simplicity.

Wherever the Arts and Crafts style has appeared, it has generally remained true to the original goal expressed by Ruskin and Morris: to raise the level of the craft arts to that of the fine arts and to reverse the dehumanizing effects of the Industrial Revolution by returning to a society in which dignity and respect were again the lot of the craftsperson.

Further Reading

  • Meyer, Barbara. In the Arts & Crafts Style. New York: Chronicle Books, 1992. Each chapter examines a different facet of the movement, with 150 color plates.
  • Naylor, Gillian, et al., eds. The Encyclopedia of Arts and Crafts. New York: Knickerbocker Press, 1998. Originally published in 1989, this brief but informative work surveys the movement in Europe and the United States. Includes illustrations and an index.
  • Parry, Linda. William Morris. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1996. A scholarly analysis of William Morris’s multifaceted achievements.
  • Rosenberg, John, ed. The Genius of John Ruskin: Selections from His Writings. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1998. The selections address John Ruskin in all important aspects of his work as art critic, social critic, and autobiographer.
  • Todd, Pamela. The Arts & Crafts Companion. New York: Bulfinch Press, 2004. Examines the movement with chapters on its “Philosophy and Background” and “The Makers of the Movement.” Includes discussion of Arts and Crafts architecture, architectural interiors, furniture, textiles, wallpaper, stained glass and lighting, pottery, ceramics, metalwork, jewelry, literature, and gardens.
  • Waggoner, Diane, ed.“The Beauty of Life”: William Morris and the Art of Design. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2003. Published to accompany an exhibition presented at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, and the Yale Center for British Art. Contains essays about Morris’s stained glass, interior decoration, and book making, his influence on British design and the Arts and Crafts movement in the United States.

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