Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts and Wood

Lately I have really been immersing myself in the flowing beauty and simplicity of Art Nouveau and the Arts and Crafts Movement that flourished in the early years of the 20th Century. The Art Nouveau style is exemplified by artistic geniuses such as Alphonse Mucha, Gustav Klimt, Louis Comfort Tiffany and Charles Rennie Mackintosh. During the same time period, other artisans such as Gustav Stickley, Elbert Hubbard, and Charles Rohlfs, and architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright and Greene & Greene contributed to what came to be known as the Arts and Crafts Movement. Both movements became interwoven and formed a new design style which was a deliberate departure from the overly ornate Victorian style that preceded it. Each artist, artisan and architect had his or her own style, yet each expressed a common belief in simplicity of form and a communion with nature. The art of this period took a critical look at the new age of machinery and mass production. As an alternative, it emphasized hand craftsmanship and locally skilled creative workers.

Personally, there is no other period of time which has produced so many pieces of art that can take my breath away. Walking through a Greene and Greene home gives me more pleasure than eating an ice cream sundae…and at zero calories. My wife and I had the opportunity to tour the Gamble House in Pasadena, CA, a beautiful city which is the “Mecca” of Arts and Crafts on the West Coast. The house was built in 1908 as the winter retreat for the son of the founder of Proctor & Gamble. It was designed by the upstart young architect brothers, Charles and Henry Greene, who had just been to the World Columbian Exhibition in Chicago, where they became influenced by Japanese architecture. The whole place is a symphony in wood. Mahogany, teak, maple, oak and cedar. Each room is a new treat. The joinery, the carving, the details! It’s an overdose of some of the best wood craftsmanship I have ever seen. If you are ever near Pasadena, a tour of this National Historic Landmark should be on you itinerary.
The above photo shows a detail of the carved cedar frieze in the living room of the Gamble House. The artist used the deep natural grain of the weathered cedar plank as part of the carving. This freize circles the entire living room. It was subtle yet overwhelming at the same time...if that's possible. I found myself staring at it with an open mouth.

If you’re stuck on the East Coast but still want some indulging Arts and Crafts desserts, I recommend the Gustav Stickley exhibit at the Newark Museum going on until Jan 2, 2011. I was especially impressed by the inlay work in some of the pieces. See Stickley chair on the left.

If that isn’t enough dessert for you, I suggest the special exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City called “The Artistic Furniture of Charles Rohlfs”. It ends Jan 23, 2011. See Rohlfs chair on the right.

Immerse yourself in the pleasures of Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau as I am doing, and let me know what you think.

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