The San Francisco Guild of Arts & Crafts

by Leslie M. Freudenheim

David B. Gamble House

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

Establishing the First American Arts & Crafts Guild

Approximately one month before the first Mission Style chairs were being made for the San Francisco Swedenborgian Church and while that building was under construction, the earliest American Arts & Crafts society was formed—not in the East, not in Chicago, but in northern California. In September 1894, only six years after the English Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society gave its name to the movement, several architects, artists and professors established the Guild of Arts and Crafts of San Francisco. The "Wave" heralded the "permanent" organization of this Guild on September 22, 1894:

"The Arts and Crafts will be permanently organized this week. William Keith . . . Arthur F. Mathews, Albert Pissis . . . Bruce Porter, Willis Polk and many others are already actively interested. The membership will be limited to 50, and not to 40 as had been erroneously reported by my contemporaries."i

The Guild Focuses on Architecture as well as Art

The "Wave" and the "Examiner" mention many architect members: Ernest Coxhead, Clinton Day, Bernard Maybeck and Willis Polk, all of whom, like A. Page Brown--architect of record for the San Francisco Swedenborgian Church and arguably San Francisco's most prominent architect at the time-- were close to Joseph Worcester, minister of the church.ii No wonder then that its goals were architectural as well as arts & crafts related:

"Whereas the Guild of Arts and Crafts, having in view the maintenance of an artistic standard in the future architecture of this City, and as the Guild believes that it will be possible, through a Board of Public Works to foster and encourage an artistic feeling in the development of our City; therefore be it RESOLVED: That the Honorable Board of Freeholders be, and hereby is, respectfully urged to give due and proper consideration to the Department of Public Works in relation to its discretionary powers in connection with the selection and approval of all designs and plans for public buildings and works, and to regulate the construction of private works. (Emphasis mine) RESOLVED: That a law creating a Board of Public Works in and for the city and county of San Francisco be included in the Charter that they are now framing. Signed: The Board of Directors of the Guild of Arts and Crafts."

Architect Willis Polk, wanted the Guild to have the same authority seen in "Eastern cities and foreign countries" and stipulated that it and the Board of Public Works "shall review not only public building plans but any private building exceeding in cost 1000 dollars."iii

There can be little doubt that Ruskin, Morris and the British movement inspired the San Francisco Guild's architectural goals. The Guild specifically stressed "an improvement" in architecture, as had the St. George's Art Society formed by assistants working in R. Norman Shaw's office in 1883 and the Art Workers Guild.iv


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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