Friday, January 4, 2008

Stickley vs. Limbert

When we all first discover arts and crafts style furniture of course the first designer we come across is Gustav Stickley. Of course there are many articles on Stickely and his furniture, he was the first American furniture maker that embraced the movement and arguably defined the style in this country. But there are other designers that were important in the movement. The one I've been drawn to besides Stickley is Charles Limbert. Limbert and Stickely's styles were very different and came from separate influences, in this post I'll give you a little background on each man and his designs, I'll show you some examples where we can contrast and compare the two. There were a large number of designers very important to the arts and crafts movement, Greene and Greene, Roycroft, FL Wright, MacIntosh, Byrdcliffe, and others but for now I am going to focus on Stickley and Limbert because I build reproductions of there furniture.

Charles P. Limbert was influenced by the heavily Dutch population of the Grand Rapids area, Limbert started designing and building "Dutch Arts and Crafts" style furniture and lighting at his Grand Rapids factory in 1902. He always used the phrase "Arts and Crafts," and never the word "mission" to describe his furniture. He was a student of European furniture designs, acknowledging the influence of the German and Austrian Secessionists on his work. British (particularly Charles Rennie MacKintosh), Japanese, Art Nouveau and American Prairie School influences are also evident in Limbert forms. Limbert visited Europe on more than one occasion, and studied examples of Dutch peasant furniture.

Limbert claimed that the original Spanish Mission Style was derived from Dutch furniture designs. He employed a designer of Austrian background named William Gohlke. Paul Horti, famous for Shop of the Crafters designs, also designed some furniture for Limbert. Of all American Arts and Crafts furniture makers, Limbert was perhaps the best known for his use of decorative cutouts, including squares, spades, hearts, etc. While sharing with Stickley an emphasis on balanced form and proportion, Limbert worked with a different vocabulary. Where Stickley was the genius of mass and the rectilinear form, Limbert was the master of the subtle curve, the tapered shape and the cut-out. Limbert emphasised high quality materials and precision joinery.

Gustav Stickley was the son of a stonemason, he learned and practised the trade until c.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, NY (1880s). 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 travelled in Europe to observe the new styles. On return (1898) he started a factory in Eastwood, NY, where furniture was made - using machines when feasible - in a style he called ‘Craftsman’. The style was mostly ‘fumed’ oak with plain rectilinear lines, usually leather for seats, and a 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 SW, 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-c artist Jan van Eyck.) In 1901 he founded a magazine called Craftsman to promote his ideas about home furnishings and social reforms and remained its publisher and editor until it ceased publication in 1916. In 1902 Craftsman began printing home designs, usually for small bungalows with ‘built-it’ furniture designed for the new middle class, or as he put it, "for the common man". Stickley was convinced that the furniture had to be “very useful, not too good for the daily use”. Stickley furniture is known by its pleasant proportions and bold construction.

The chair on the left is an example of a Limbert No. 644 rocker, the cushions are not period, but you can see the fine curves on the front legs and the organic, almost tree like middle slat. The arms are curved and the back legs taper gradually all the way to the top. The chair is quartersawn white oak as appropriate for any arts and crafts furniture and was probably originally upholstered in leather.

This Chair is an original Stickely Paddle Arm Morris Chair. While it is an L & JG Stickley design, they borrowed heavily from their brothers designs. Notice that the design is much more linear with slight arches under the arms and the long flowing corbels that were the hallmark of the Stickely Brothers furniture as opposed to the shorter corbels of Gustav. The tenons from the legs come through the arms a fine example of Stickley exposed joinery. With 2.5 inch square legs and 6 inch wide 1 inch thick arms this chair is massive.

This Limbert side table is a basic cube with square cutouts, and an overhanging top. The slight lifts at the bottom of the side adds lift to the design and the illusion of legs. The cutouts are a Limbert specialty that shows his influence from Renee MacIntosh's Glasgow School of design. This is as simple as it gets for a side table, just a raised horizontal surface to place something on next to your chair, however I think you'll agree with me that even in this simple form, the design is elegant.

This Stickley end table shows the rectilinear style he is known for. The side panels are reflected in the simple door. The real beauty of this piece is the figure in the quartersawn white oak. Notice at the bottom the exposed through tenons, lifts on the side and a slightly arched bottom style on the front. Stickley made his own hardware, hand hammered ring pulls that hearken back to medieval furniture, as opposed to the overly ornate polished brass hardware prevalent during the Victorian period.

Take a look at this Limbert umbrella stand, if you ever see one in a yard sale BUY IT!! These are very rare and bring a small fortune at auction. This piece has a slight reverse taper and cutouts on the side, these serve a purpose as well as being a design element, they allow air to circulate inside and lets the wet umbrellas dry. There is a hammered copper drip pan unseen.

This Stickley umbrella stand couldn't be much more simple, its an object taken down to its most basic form. Four vertical legs with stretchers at the top and bottom and a hammered copper drip pan. Stickley believed in form and function being
more important than ornamentation.

Now, how about a little quiz, oh come on, its easy.
Take a look at these three small tables that I've made and see if you can determine if they are Stickley or Limbert, see not hard. Next, see if you can decide which elements of design in each piece lets you know if they are Stickley or Limbert.

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