Artists & Designers

Charles Rohlfs (1853-1936)

Born in Brooklyn, Charles Rohlfs was educated at the Cooper Union "School of Science" before securing a position as a designer of cast iron stoves. During the 1870s and 1880s, Rohlfs pursued a career as an actor while maintaining contracts with various foundries for his design work. During the 1890s, he began experimenting with cabinetwork - at first to furnish his new home in Buffalo, but by the end of the decade, promoting himself as a professional maker of "artistic furniture." Rohlfs' rapid ascendance in the field of furniture design was marked by the acclaim his work received at the Pan-American Exposition of 1901, the Turin International Exposition of Decorative Modern Art of 1902, and the Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904. Though obliquely associated with the American Arts and Crafts movement by the nature of his independent studio and interest in the potential social benefits of his work, Rohlfs eschewed the often rigid lines and "honest joinery" of Gustav Stickley and the Roycrofters in favor of fanciful forms, undulating curves, and a particular delicacy which deny stylistic comparison with most American furniture of the period. With his flair for the eccentric and refusal to be categorized as an adherent of any particular style or school, international critics singled out his designs as among the most innovative and "artistic" produced in the United States. Around World War I, changing tastes decreased sales and eventually prompted Rohlfs to all but abandon his furniture design activities.

Adapted from

Kevin Tucker, DMA unpublished material, 2004.

Related Multimedia

Gallery talk; speaker is The Margot B. Perot Curator of Decorative Arts and Design, DMA
Late Night Lecture; speaker is Exhibition Curator and Curatorial Director of the American Decorative Art 1900 Foundation

Web Resources

  • Cooper Hewitt
    Listen to "The Interiors of Charles Rolfs," a lecture by Joseph Cunningham of the American Decorative Art 1900 Foundation.
  • The Magazine Antiques
    Read "Anna Katharine Green and Charles Rohlfs: Artistic collaborators," an article on the collaboration between Rolfs and his wife Anna Katherine Green by Joseph Cunningham of the American Decorative Art 1900 Foundation.
  • The Winterthur Library
    Explore materials related to Charles Rolfs in the Winterthur Library.