The San Francisco Guild of Arts & Crafts, continued

by Leslie M. Freudenheim

David B. Gamble House

Northwest corner, David B. Gamble house, Pasadena, 1907-09.

Media Praise for the San Francisco Guild of Arts & Crafts

On November 24, 1894, the "Wave" applauded the guild's intentions:

"The Arts and Crafts organization may elevate the standard and contribute toward educating the popular mind to a discriminating sense which will distinguish merit and true art in the various arts & crafts. I am told that the organization proposes to be something beside a passive body of contemplative geniuses indulging in mild, monotonous monthly meetings with no excuse for existence outside of self- admiration. It intends, I believe, to encourage an improvement in our architectural vagaries and if this alone be accomplished then Arts and Crafts will not have lived in vain.v

"The San Francisco Chronicle" chimed in: "The voice of the Guild should be that of the highest authority among us and must carry weight even to the minds of the Philistines."vi Despite the applause one reason the Guild did not become permanent was surely that it intended to control the design of private homes as well as public buildings, in addition to encouraging arts and crafts.

British Arts & Crafts Guilds inspire San Francisco's Guild of Arts & Crafts

"Overland Monthly" reviewed the San Francisco Guild's first exhibition and commented that its name and fundamental idea derive from Ruskin, Morris, and the British Arts & Crafts movement:

"The San Francisco society took its name . . . and fundamental idea from the annual exhibition instituted largely through the efforts of William Morris . . . and Walter Crane. The whole movement is due to the indirect influence of the teachings of Ruskin. . . . The scheme . . . at . . . the Guild of Arts and Crafts in London was the revival of the old handicraft in workmanship . . . not only among working men, but throughout the mass of the population. Nothing gives a man so much respect, both in his own eyes and in those of other men, as the power to make . . . as it tends to remove the barrier between the artist and the artisan. . . . Something may be done for California in this direction."vii

California had extensive International Connections

Californians, like other Americans, studied and traveled in Europe (Willis Polk, Bernard Maybeck, A.Page Brown, Ernest Coxhead, among others had done so) and Europeans visited California. Englishmen visited San Francisco even before 1894 including a British painter Alfred Parsons.viii Parsons was a member of the Art Workers Guild (1884) that, with the English Century Guild (1882) and the Guild of Handicraft formed by C. R. Ashbee in 1888, used the medieval- referenced term "guild" in their names. One can guess that the founders of the Guild of Arts and Crafts of San Francisco knew their English sister organizations and, of course, the medieval reference, and chose the name accordingly. Moreover, like the Art Workers Guild in London, the San Francisco guild began by inviting only certain people to join. When reviewing the Guild's second exhibition, the "San Francisco Examiner" remarked upon the many scenes painted in France and England, confirming these architects and artists' first-hand experience in Europe.ix

In Berkeley Charles and Louise Keeler operated their own publishing house, "The Sign of the Live Oak;" Louise illustrated their books with her own designs so reminiscent of designs from William Morris' Kelmscott Press it's clear she knew those publications intimately.x

San Francisco's Guild of Arts & Crafts Inspires Chicago and Boston

The first Guild of Arts & Crafts established in San Francisco must have been quite influential. Its establishment and activities were publicized to a readership beyond California—in "Overland Monthly" and undoubtedly in other journals as well as by personal contacts. Indeed, it may have helped stimulate similar Arts & Crafts related organizations elsewhere in the United States. The Boston Society of the Arts and Crafts held its first meeting three years after the San Francisco Guild had been established on June 28, 1897, although it held an exhibition in April of that year; Chicago's Arts & Crafts group first met on October 22, 1897. More importantly, Arts & Crafts' influence on California architecture, furniture, metalwork and pottery persists to this day.

The Second San Francisco Arts & Crafts Guild, Ruskin Clubs, and a Handicraft Guild

Although the original San Francisco Guild died sometime after April 24, 1897, having presented only two exhibitions, by 1903 a second version of the Arts & Crafts Guild had been re-established (see below).xi Moreover, the original San Francisco Guild of Arts & Crafts spawned similar organizations. Charles Keeler, who greatly admired Worcester and Maybeck, and who certainly knew members of the San Francisco Guild of Arts and Crafts, established a Ruskin Club in Berkeley in 1898 "that called people's attention to the need for beautiful and simple surroundings, the necessity of art in life." The same year he and the Hillside Club began a Handicraft Guild to show the necessity of art in the home; members made furniture for themselves and for sale.xii Also in 1898 a group of writers and artists in Piedmont formed another Ruskin Club; Jack London became a member while he was renting Joseph Worcester's Piedmont bungalow in which he wrote "Call of the Wild."xiii

Douglas van Denburgh launched the second Guild of Arts & Crafts in San Francisco in 1903.xvi San Francisco's second Guild of Arts & Crafts lasted at least through 1910. In 1907 Frederick H. Meyer, also a member of the San Francisco Guild of Arts & Crafts, founded still another organization, the California College of Arts & Crafts, which still exists.xv These organizations were among the "hundreds of organizations" devoted to handicraft and home industries that, according to Wendy Kaplan, sprang up in the United States from 1890 to 1910.xvi As we will see below, many of them were established even earlier in California.

Two other San Francisco Art Organizations influence Boston and Chicago

Two other San Francisco art organizations had been established long before the first Guild and these too still thrive today. San Francisco was one of the first American cities, if not the first, to establish an art association and an art school. In February 1871 leading artists and public-spirited citizens established the San Francisco Art Association to promote and cultivate "Fine Arts" in the community. One of the first acts of the Association was the founding of an academy for the teaching of drawing, painting and modeling. This academy, called the California School of Design, began on February 9, 1874.xvii San Francisco may have inspired Chicago and Boston because two years after San Francisco's School of Design was established The School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston was founded (1876). In 1879 The Art Institute of Chicago was founded as both a museum and school.

Why did the British Arts & Crafts Movement make such an early and significant impact in California and why did it spread?

Here are a few possible answers: 1) Like the major centers of culture in the East, San Francisco had extensive international connections in the 1880s-90s. But it had something more. Those who had moved to California were often willing to leave traditional ways behind. They were more likely to be open to new ideas, new building techniques and new styles of living, especially affordable ones. Charles Lummis described them as "progressive, adventurous, and dynamic simply by virtue of the fact that they had pulled up stakes back east or in the Old World and come to California." They were extraordinarily open to new ideas.

William Morris, John Ruskin and their admirers had originally suggested many of the ideas adapted by the various Bay Area guilds and Arts & Crafts related clubs. These ideas were codified in "Architectural News," in Worcester's 1895 interview "A House that Teaches,"xix and in Hillside Club pamphlets from 1898, and they were further detailed in Keeler's 1904 book, "The Simple Home." In 1904 Gustav Stickley spent four months in California. In fact he was so enamored of California he determined to build a cooperative community there: "We shall live the simple life. Here in California you have ideal conditions . . . ."xx In 1905 Stickley added a subtitle to the Craftsman: "an illustrated monthly magazine for the Simplification of Life." Clearly the move toward the "simple" and affordable middle-class Arts & Crafts house, a trend that accompanied the exodus from crowded cities, was international, and California played an important role in its American growth.xxi


Poems of Wood and Light


Greene & Greene Furniture: Poems of Wood & Light
Greene & Greene: Design Elements for the Workshop
Greene and Greene: Masterworks

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