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The Arts and Crafts Movement

The Arts and Crafts Movement

A movement in architecture and decorative arts that flourished in England and the United States from 1870 until 1920 characterizing simplicity of design, handcrafted objects using local materials. This movement very much challenged the tastes of the Victorian era. It appears to have been led by a few good men – Walter Crane and John Ruskin (the thinkers) and William Morris who was a designer with new reformist ideals.

Their notions of good design were built on their belief system regarding society at large. They held beliefs that the worker should not be brutalized by the working conditions found in factories at that time, but rather encouraged to take pride in their crafmanship and be encouraged to express their individuality and style. In this period manufactured goods were often poor in quality and design. Ruskin and Morris urged that individual craftsmanship should be revived so that ordinary people could enjoy beautiful objects along with decent employment for the craftsmen of the time.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh along with his wife Margaret MacDonald were two very influential designers of the Arts and Crafts Movement. Charles was born in Glasgow in 1869 and commenced his architectural practise there where he commenced his first grand project – the Glasgow Herald building in 1899.

After becoming a partner of the architectural firm Honeyman and Keppie in 1903 he designed the Scotland Street School and when economic hardship was causing problems for architects he resigned from Honeyman and Keppie and attempted to open his own practise.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh lived most of his life in Glasgow a city that had been one of the greatest production centres of heavy engineering and shipbuilding during the Industrial Revolution. An influence of design from Japan was evident in the Mackintosh designs – brought about no doubt by his exposure to the Japanese designs brought to the Clyde by Japanese navy engineers. 

Margaret McDonald collaborated with Mackintosh on most of his projects and her floral inspired decorative motifs contrasted with the strong right angles of the furniture designed by Mackintosh.  No lover of the designs of Margaret McDonald and Charles Rennie Mackintosh should miss a tour of the Glasgow School of Arts also known as Scotland Street School in Glasgow. Another fine example of their work can be seen at the Willow Tearooms in Glasgow. 

Jewellery of the arts and crafts movement was influenced by John Ruskin and inspired by nature – the shapes of leaves, flowers, and birds. Non precious materials were used as opposed to the precious metals of the Victorian era and it was hoped that again the price factor would mean that the jewellery was more accessible to the common man or woman. This was not the case because the time involved in hammering, and nurturing the arts and crafts style jewellery was often cost prohibiting. The jewellery designs were very much a cross over into the Art Nouveau designs.