“… remember the Ladies”
by Maxine Carter-Lome
When we think about the American Arts & Crafts Movement, we tend to think of such influencers as Gustav Stickley, Elbert Hubbard, and Frank Lloyd Wright, among others. Rarely do the names of women come readily to mind, despite their contributions to the Movement as artists and artisans, and the role they played in advancing women’s rights.
Women who sought to work in the domestic arts in the second half of the nineteenth century found unique opportunities within the Arts & Crafts Movement. The Movement’s emphasis on social reform allowed professional women to earn money through art production by “cloaking their work in the socially acceptable guise of artistic production,” says Catherine Zipf, author of “Professional Pursuits: Women and the American Arts & Crafts Movement,” whose article, “Wrought by Her Hands: The American Arts and Crafts Movement and its Women Practitioners,” is featurd in the February issue.
Pioneers such as Mary Louise McLaughlin, Maria Longworth Nichols Storer, Clara P. Barck Welles, Ann Van Briggle, and so many other mostly unsung women whose names are now lost to all but aficionados and academics, founded businesses, invented technology, and built economic markets, all at a time when women had few professional options, Zipf points out. “This early generation of women designers believed that art could proactively generate change.” By the turn of the century, their efforts had caused a massive expansion in Arts & Crafts production. By training and employing women, they had also opened the door for future generations of women entrepreneurs, artists, and business professionals.
Mary Louise McLaughlin, one of the earliest women working in America, formed the Cincinnati Pottery Club in early 1877, shortly after the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Run entirely by women officers, it was the first women’s ceramic club in the country and one of the first to hold annual receptions at which members could sell their work.
Maria Longworth Nichols Storer founded Rookwood Pottery in 1880 in Ohio as a result of also being inspired by what she saw at the Centennial Exhibition, including Japanese and French ceramics. Mrs. Storer named it Rookwood after her wealthy father’s country estate near the city in Walnut Hills. Rookwood is considered the first woman-owned manufacturing company in the United States.
Newcomb Pottery was formed under the auspices of the H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College in Louisiana, an educational institution for women (now associated with Tulane University). Newcomb College had been founded expressly to instruct young Southern women in liberal arts. The art school opened in 1886 and production of art pottery on a for-profit basis began in 1895. Over the years, the Pottery employed dozens of women, who not only made pottery but later also produced metalwork and textiles.
In Boston’s North End, the Saturday Evening Girls Club, established in 1899 as a reading group for immigrant girls, founded the Paul Revere Pottery. According to its circular, “the pottery aims to be a happy, healthful, wage-earning occupation and plans to give girls whose parents are not well off an opportunity to earn the small sum necessary for their school expenses.”
“The Saturday Evening Girls Club and their Paul Revere Pottery are excellent examples of Arts and Crafts ideals in practice in America: poor, immigrant girls created beautiful pots by hand while working in clean workrooms for decent hours and decent pay. Each worker had flowers for inspiration at her station, volunteers would read classical literature, plays or newspapers, and each artist was allowed to sign her own work,” writes Nonie Gadsden, the Carolyn and Peter Lynch Assistant Curator of Decorative Arts and Sculpture, Art of the Americas at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
The Kalo Shop was founded in 1900 in Chicago by Clara P. Barck Welles (1868-1965) and fellow Art Institute of Chicago graduates Bertha Hall, Rose Dolese, Grace Gerow, Ruth Raymond, and Bessie McNeal. The Kalo Shop operated a “school in a workshop” to train and employ workers and artists in jewelry design and fabrication for its handwrought metalcraft business, hiring and training predominately women at a time when many businesses did not. You can read more about The Kalo Shop and its influence on the Chicago Arts & Crafts aesthetic on page 23.
The American Arts & Crafts Movement has many stories to tell, not the least of which are those about the many women inspired and empowered by the underlying tenets of the Movement, who went on to put their mark, literally, on items we continue to value and covet today for their design simplicity, craftsmanship, and timeless beauty.
Also in this issue I am pleased to call your attention to three new monthly columns: “This Month in Sports Collecting History” by Contributing Columnist Mike McLeod and Sponsored By Memory Lane, shares the back-stories behind sports collectibles coming to market; “The Vintage Marketplace,” Sponsored by Ruby Lane, provides news, promotes upcoming events, and highlights vintage shops – all in one place for the convenience of vintage collectors and enthusiasts; and “Great Collections” highlights personal or museum collections that showcase our monthly editorial topic. We hope you enjoy these new additions!
“… remember the Ladies”