In Focus

Gustav Stickley's Rustic armchair

In May of 1903, in an article on the design and furnishing of the Craftsman house, Gustav Stickley first provided an endorsement of woven willow furniture by suggesting that “a few willow chairs, stained a spring-like green” might serve to “lighten the otherwise too heavy and sombre effect of line and color” within a Craftsman interior. In the following February he began shipping willow seating furniture, providing a modest selection of models until the dissolution of the firm in 1916. As with the introduction of his new oak Arts and Crafts designs, Stickley entered into competition with other, established makers of fashionable woven furniture, including Joseph P. McHugh of New York, whose firm had been producing pieces in willow as early as 1893. However, unlike the more conventional designs of most of his competitors, several works in Stickley’s new line anticipated a nascent American interest in a more modern style that had recently begun to sweep through Europe.

In the late 19th century, rattan and willow furniture was typically associated with rustic styles, described as particularly appropriate for porches, and often commended for its lightness, receptiveness to paint, and ease of cleaning. Within the pages of Stickley’s magazine, articles cited willow furniture as appropriate for nearly every room within a house—not only porches, but libraries, living rooms, breakfast rooms, sitting rooms, and bedrooms—any place “where the need is for something which naturally belongs to the comfort and simplicity of country life, and that brings into the house a pleasing suggestion of out of doors.” To align these designs more closely with both Arts and Crafts philosophy and the promotion of Stickley’s oak furniture, the material was described as “beloved of the craftsman,” the works being “all hand woven” to “hold in their beauty of color and line and modeling the personal interest of the worker.” Each chair and settle, “strongly and firmly made” yet with “the flexibility of a well-woven basket,” could be ordered with a choice of upholstery and, ordinarily, one of two finishes, a soft green and a deep golden brown, unevenly applied to provide a translucent effect and therefore a more natural tone to the willow than an opaque paint would provide.

Along with other works in Stickley’s willow line, the striking profile, cascading arms, and geometric pattern of voids in the construction of this armchair reflect the pronounced influence of contemporary Austrian and German design upon the Craftsman Workshops. Around the turn of the 20th century, designers including Peter Behrens (1868–1940) and Richard Riemerschmid (1868–1907) explored woven furniture as a means to provide goods that could be produced in quantity at a relatively low cost by means of a collaborative effort between manufacturers and local craftspeople. Articles in The Craftsman often lauded progressive Austrian and German designs, including those featured at the 1904 St. Louis Exposition and, later, that of German willow furniture.

As the scholar David Cathers has noted, some Craftsman willow seating was likely inspired by the furniture of Hans Vollmer (1878–1969), a student of Josef Hoffmann. Vollmer’s designs appeared in various publications including The Studio, International Studio, and Dekorative Kunst. This armchair closely parallels one of Vollmer’s chairs published in 1904 in The International Studio (fig. 65), but was apparently not produced by Stickley until around 1913, when it was recommended in The Craftsman as a recent design possibly “intended for some cozy fireside” and, with its high back, to “emphasize the comfortable seclusion of the hearth.”

Adapted from

Kevin Tucker, Gustav Stickley and the American Arts and Crafts Movement (Dallas, Texas: Dallas Museum of Art; New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2010), 226.

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