Arts and Crafts Golf Part II
by Thomas MacWood

The Reformers

From the aesthetics of Victorian England came three influential dissenters — Pugin, Ruskin and Morris — with Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1812 -1852) being the first. His father, A.C. Pugin, had come to England during the French Revolution and worked for the architect John Nash, drawing the fashionable Gothic details that his clients demanded and Nash detested. AWN Pugin, born in London in 1812, assisted his father as a boy with both his designs and in the production of several books on Gothic architecture. In fact the younger Pugin was thought to be even more knowledgeable than his father and at 15, was chosen to design the faux-Gothic furniture for Windsor Castle. (He later called these designs ‘enormities’ and remarked that ‘a man who remains any length of time in a modern Gothic room, and escapes without being wounded by some minutiae, may consider himself extremely fortunate’)

As a youth Pugin was intensely fond of the sea (He once said, ‘There is nothing worth living for but Christian architecture and a boat’) and ironically his life would be rocked by constant turbulence. He found himself shipwrecked off the Firth of Forth in 1830, got married in 1831, lost his wife a year later, got married again in 1833, lost his second wife in 1844, got married once more in 1848, and lost his mind in 1851. A short life that included three marriages, eight children and over a hundred designs (mostly churches) and great quantities of ornaments, furniture and vestments. He drew every line himself and when asked why he didn’t give the mechanical part of the work to a clerk, he replied, ‘Clerk, my dear sir, clerk, I never employ one: I should kill him in a week.’ Pugin died at the age of forty from overwork.

The turning point in Pugin’s life was his conversion to Catholicism in 1835. The following year he published a book entitled Contrasts (a slight reduction from its original title, A Parallel between the Noble Edifices of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries, and Similar Buildings of the Present Day; Shewing the Present Decay of Taste). In the book Pugin argued that Gothic was the only true Christian architecture. It was illustrated by brilliant comparisons between the ‘meanness, cruelty and vulgarity’ of buildings of his own day, the Classical and faux-Gothic, and the glories of the true Gothic of the pre-Reformation Catholic past. He claimed Gothic architecture was produced by the Catholic faith and that Classic architecture was Pagan. The Reformation had been a dreadful scourge, and medieval architecture was greatly superior to anything produced by the Renaissance or Classic revivals — ‘a bastard Greek, nondescript modern style has ravaged many of the most interesting cities of Europe.’

Pugin believed that beauty should grow from necessity, that there were two great rules for design, ‘1st, that there should be no features about a building, which are not necessary for convenience, construction or propriety; 2nd, that all ornament should consist of the essential construction of the building.’ These two principles would influence the succeeding Arts and Crafts Movement, and eventually led to freely composed asymmetrical buildings. ‘Architectural features are continually tacked on buildings which they have no connection, merely for the sake of what is termed effect; and ornaments are actually constructed, instead of forming the decoration of construction, to which in good taste they should always be subservient.’

AWN Pugin, 'Contrasts', showing the same town in Victorian and middles ages.

Another of his doctrines was ‘fidelity to place’, and it too was adopted by the Arts and Crafts movement. It argued that environmental factors were responsible for a given areas architectural traditions and styles. To create a truly sympathetic design one must embrace those naturally evolved regional traditions along with the materials naturally found in the area. For example, Pugin’s design at St.Augustines reflected the regional Gothic tradition and was constructed of local Kentish brown stones excavated nearby. ‘What does an Italian house do in England?’, railing against the prevailing fashion for Italianate villas.’Is there a similarity between our climate and that of Italy? Not in the least . . . another objection to Italian architecture is this — we are not Italians, we are Englishmen.’

John Ruskin (1819 -1900) was the first professor of art history at Oxford University and the most influential art critic of his day. He shared Pugin’s disgust with the classical world, not because it was ‘pagan’ but because its aesthetic was based on symmetry and regulation. For Ruskin the opposite qualities — asymmetry, irregularity and roughness — made Gothic architecture superior. One of the sternest critics of industrialization and the only Arts and Crafts reformer to reject the use of machinery altogether, Ruskin believed the industrial revolution had turned designers into anonymous laborers. Only by returning to handwork would individuality be restored and along with it, quality.

'John Ruskin' by JE Millais, Pre-Raphaelite artist.

The son of a wealthy and cultivated London sherry merchant, Ruskin’s upbringing was abnormally strict, however he was always encouraged to read, write, and draw, and to appreciate the beauties of nature. Following an education at Oxford, he became well-known as a critic of landscape painting and champion of the works of the painter Turner and the Pre-Raphaelites, a group of artists who were opposed to the stale formula-driven art produced by the Royal Academy. Ruskin promoted contemporary art and artists, which accelerated collection of these works by the new middle class. At the same time he was rejecting classicality, ‘All classicality . . . is utterly vain and absurd, if we are to do anything great, good, awful, religious, it must be got out of our own little island, and out of these very times, railroads and all.’ Like Pugin before him Ruskin argued that Gothic was the architecture of northern Europe and that unlike Classical architecture built by slaves, it was the product of free craftsmen. Classical’s aim was perfection of execution according to a series of clearly defined rules, ‘in the end any workman could produce it if he were beaten hard enough.’

Ruskin maintained that architecture should be true, with no hidden structures, no veneers or finishes and beauty in architecture was only possible if inspired by nature. Truly humane architecture must be imperfect — what he called savage, the Gothic ‘naturalism’. The Gothic craftsman, Ruskin believed, not only expressed his own imperfections in his art, but by studying nature, the imperfections of his subjects as well. Because Gothic was not tied to strict rules, it was ‘the only rational architecture,’ for it could fit itself to every use or circumstance. ‘It is one of the chief virtues of the Gothic builders, that they never suffered ideas of outside symmetries and consistencies to interfere with the real use and value of what they did . . . If they wanted a window, they opened one; a room, they added one; a buttress, they built one; utterly regardless of any established conventionalities of external appearance, knowing . . . that such daring interruptions of the formal plan would rather give additional interest to its symmetry than injure it.’

Ruskin’s two most famous books, The Seven Lamps of Architecture and The Stones of Venice, established criteria for judging art that were followed well into the twentieth century. The Seven Lamps of Architecture was a personal reaction against the rigidity of the classical style. Ruskin concerns himself with defining the ethical and spiritual, as well as the aesthetic nature of architecture.

The Lamp of Sacrifice – Architecture by definition is an art which rises above’building’ and requires additional effort and resources which are not necessary to strict utility

The Lamp of Truth – No disguised supports, no sham materials, no machine work for handwork

The Lamp of Power – Refers to the effect of architecture to consciously inspire awe

The Lamp of Beauty – Only possible through imitation of, or inspiration from nature

The Lamp of Life – Architecture must express a fullness of life; embrace boldness and irregularity, scorn refinement and also be the work of men as men

The Lamp of Memory – The greatest glory of a building is its age and we must therefore build for permanence

The Lamp of Obedience – Architecture should be conservative. Expression is good, but preoccupation with originality is essentially bad. Architects should not seek to consciously introduce new Style

In his later years Ruskin was devoted to social and political issues, advocating a form of state socialism. One of his last political efforts was the founding the St.George’s Guild, a society to pursue the ideals of the dignity of labor and fight against machines and its alienating effect. The experiment failed, while embracing what he called socialism, Ruskin always stressed ‘the impossibility of equality.’ In 1880 he began to suffer a progressive mental collapse, and was unable to testify during the Whistler trial when the artist sued Ruskin for libel. The last years of his life were a gradual descent into madness.

While Ruskin was one of the most widely read English authors, William Morris’ (1834-1896) influence was even more far reaching. He too was a prolific lecturer and writer whose works were popular on both sides of the Atlantic, but his stature as the versatile figure of the Arts and Crafts movement came from the example he set as a consummate craftsman.

Morris was born in Walthamstow, the son of a successful businessman. In 1840, when Morris was six, his father acquired a fortune speculating in Devon copper mine, and the family moved to Woodford Hall on the edge of Epping Forest. The Epping period — spent riding horses, fishing, hunting, gardening, bread baking, brewing beer, learning of plants and birds — formed Morris’s enduring appreciation of nature. When his father died in 1847, the family was forced to move back to Walthamstow. All his life, Morris tried to recreate the idyllic, almost medieval life at Woodford Hall.

Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris.

A love for medieval beauty was fostered during his undergraduate years at Oxford, little changed since the fifteenth century. Having gone there to study for the ministry, he read The Stones of Venice and decided to become an architect. After experimenting with both architecture and painting, Morris devoted himself to the decorative arts. In 1861 he formed what would become Morris and Company, a collaborative effort with a goal of uniting all the arts. The Pre-Raphaelite painters Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones and Edward Madox Brown, and the architect Phillip Webb were also founding members. Their diverse talents combined to produce furniture, stained glass, wall-paintings, decorative tiles, embroidery, wallpaper, tapestry and metalwork. Morris was the embodiment of the Arts and Craft movement; blending art, ideals and business.

Morris’s design patterns for wall paper, textiles and tapestries (which remain popular to this day), were derived from the underlying geometry of flowers and plants, and was characterized by natural materials. As a Ruskin disciple, Morris understood the importance of craft work as well as design. ‘For . . . everything made by man’s hand has a form, which must be either beautiful or ugly; beautiful if it is in accord with nature, and helps her; ugly if it is discordant with nature, and thwarts her.’

Morris chair, Stickley's Craftsman Workshops (1910).

Morris believed that if the new architecture and planning were to draw inspiration from the old, preservation of historic work was vitally important — not only as a model, but as reminder of the continuity of past, present and future. He formed the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) in 1877. Morris had been outraged by a proposal by the architect Sir Gilbert Scott to restore Tewksbury Abbey.’My eyes just caught the word ‘restoration’ in the morning paper, and on looking closer, I saw that this time it is nothing less than the Minster of Tewksbury that is to be destroyed by Sir Gilbert Scott.’ So begins a letter which Morris sent to the newspaper Athenaeum as a protest against the wide spread practice of church restoration.

Earlier restorations by Victorian architects intended to modernize or return buildings to their original state had, in Morris’s view, ruined much fine medieval architecture, partly through ignorance and partly through the use of modern construction methods, under which it was impossible for carvers to express the true Gothic savageness. Morris also alleged that architects advised large-scale rebuilding to increase their commissions, which was later supported by a document that showed spending on church restoration had outstripped new construction for the previous twenty years. SPAB successfully popularized a doctrine of ‘honest’ repair rather than wholesale restoration to a state of perfection which often had reality not in history but the architects imagination. In the SPAB manifesto Morris urged, ‘to treat our ancient buildings as monuments of a bygone art, created by bygone manners, that modern art cannot meddle with without destroying, Thus, and thus only . . . Can we protect out ancient buildings and hand them down instructive and venerable to those that come after us.’ The obvious result of SPAB was preservation, but it also enabled Morris to extol the simplicity and beauty of vernacular buildings, which became the inspiration for the Arts and Crafts architects that followed.

In 1883 Morris became a member of the Democratic Federation, the only socialist body then in existence. It was the start of commitment to the socialist movement for which he remained faithful to the end of his life. A successful capitalist who preached communism; a designer of mass-produced art who believed in the freedom of individual craftsman; a beneficiary of machine-made ornament who preferred utter simplicity — the Morris paradox.

The Arts and Crafts Movement

The Arts and Crafts movement has long confounded historians. Although it is universally agreed to have started in Britain, there is little agreement as to exactly when it began — or exactly when it ended for that matter. Its evolution was a gradual process rather than a sudden revelation. To further complicate matters it was an artistic movement without a definitive style. The movement promoted individualism and the incorporation of regional traditions, resulting in startling diversity from an ‘Olde English’ cottage in Cotswold to an Adobe inspired home in Santa Fe. As A&C historian Eizabeth Cumming wrote, ‘Although practitioners had widely differing agendas, they shared the ideal of individual expression, of design that could draw inspiration from the past but would be no slavish imitation of historical models. Buildings were crafted of local materials and designed to fit into the landscape and reflect vernacular tradition.’

Ernest Gimson, Stoneywell Cottage, Leicester, Devon (1898)

And because it was not so much a style as an approach, the Arts and Crafts movement has been little more than a foot note historically. Its recognition can be traced to Modern architecture’s inability to find humanity and individualism, allowing the simplicity, informality and honesty of the Arts and Crafts movement to enjoy a resurgence. And with this renewed interest, architectural and social historians have begun to recognize ‘the immense scale and range of both professional and amateur Arts and Crafts activity and to unravel its complex and sometimes contradictory ideologies’.

CFA Voysey, Moorcrag, Lake Windemere, Cumbria (1899).

The roots of the Arts and Crafts movement can be traced to 1851 and the Great Exhibition in London. Held in the eighteen-acre Crystal Palace, the event was a celebration of British wealth, power and know-how, designed to showcase the artistic prowess of a great industrial nation. Queen Victoria who opened the Great Exhibition declared ‘our People have shown such taste in the their manufacturing.’ More discriminating visitors disagreed, seeing the cheap, mass-produced household goods and shoddy ‘art-objects’ as a dreadful indictment on the sad state of British design. Artist Edward Burne-Jones, spoke of the ‘gigantic weariness’ of the exhibition, Pugin described the Crystal Palace as a ‘glass monster’ and Morris dismissed the exhibits as ‘wonderfully ugly.’ For these men the Great Exhibition illustrated there was a clear need for reform.

Britain was the first country to industrialize. Britain was also the first to react against the consequences of industrialization. The Arts and Crafts movement began as a reaction to the squalor, ugliness and inequalities caused by the Industrial revolution — the dehumanization of the worker and the evils of the machine. It was reforming movement in architecture and design that evolved from the writings of Pugin, Ruskin and Morris — but at its core was an over riding concern with quality of life.

The Arts and Crafts movement rejected ‘style’ as an artificial imposition, its designs were distinguished by an ‘insistence on modesty and simplicity . . . And on the inherent qualities of natural material simply worked.’ The architect Phillip Webb, who designed William Morris’s home Red House, exemplified this new point of view. For Webb the land ‘was not merely ‘nature’ . . . and art was not taste but the human spirit made visible.’ He believed that the root of architecture was the land. Before designing a new building, he walked over the site until it ‘relinquished its full possibilities,’ and offered up ‘particular suggestions.’ That ability to weave nature and architecture together revived the quest for an organic architecture. The Arts and Crafts architects successfully ‘recreated the past as a world of pre-industrial simplicity, ‘quaint’ and ‘old fashioned’, whose point of reference was the small manor house, farmhouse or cottage. Houses were no longer built to look new, but old, being irregular, distinct and tucked away into the folds of the landscape which they no longer sought to dominate.’

The movement became aware of itself in 1880’s when it first gave itself a name and it was in that decade that it emerged with recognizable message, it began to flourish in the 1890’s and it achieved its most brilliant effect in the decades around the turn of the century. The term Arts and Crafts, in its own era, signified a general association of like-minded artists, designers, manufacturers and crafts people. And although they were highly individualistic and could not be pinned to a definable style, they shared many ideals: honest construction and simplicity of form, fitness for purpose, harmony between the man-made and environment, the revival of traditional craft techniques and the inherent qualities of natural materials. If forced to pinpoint the four universal principals they would be — design unity, joy of labor, individualism and regionalism — these combined to create the Arts and Crafts approach.

What began as an English movement, eventually found its way to the Continent and America. In Northern Europe designers were inspired but didn’t necessarily follow its model. Only in America was it directly copied, adapted and developed on a parallel tract. The American movement’s zenith lagged a decade, or so, behind the British movement, but both flourished in an age of prosperity, ironically created by industrial achievement. Likewise the movement’s decline can be traced to economic weakness — the Great War in Britain and the Depression in America.

Another difficulty in defining the A&C movement was its universal influence on all artistic expression and design. It not only touched architecture, the Arts and Craft house being the supreme embodiment of the movement, but also garden design, furniture, fine arts, glassware, metalwork, ceramics and textiles. Among its many extraordinary disciples were the architects – Phillip Webb, WR Lethaby, CFA Voysey, Edwin Lutyens, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Charles Ashbee, HH Richardson, Stanford White, Bernard Maybeck, Frank Lloyd Wright and the Greene brothers; garden designers – William Robinson and Gertrude Jekyll; furniture makers – Gustav Stickley and George Niedecken; glass and metalwork – Louis Comfort Tiffany and DirkVan Erp; and ceramics – William Grueby. From jewelry and candlesticks to tea-kettles and clocks, no object of design was untouched by the eloquence of the Arts and Crafts argument, including golf-architecture.

The End