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The U.S. Now Has a Museum Dedicated to the American Arts and Crafts Movement

The U.S. Now Has a Museum Dedicated to the American Arts and Crafts Movement

It was a well-made reproduction of a bookcase by Gustav Stickley, the furniture maker and early champion of the American Arts and Crafts movement, that first sparked entrepreneur Rudy Ciccarello’s infatuation with the history of American craft. “I was impressed with its simple, clean design, white American oak construction, beautiful finish, copper hardware, and rugged sturdiness,” he tells AD PRO.

The Arts and Crafts movement, in part spearheaded by Stickley, championed a return to artisanship, blossoming in the late-19th and early-20th centuries as a reaction to the Industrial Revolution and subsequent introduction of mass-produced goods; similar to what was happening across the pond under the leadership of William Morris. “Soon after, I was on a business trip in Vermont attending an auction when by chance the very same, but original, Stickley bookcase came up for sale,” Ciccarello says. “That began the journey that led me to become a student of the movement and a serious collector.” That collection, which has since grown to 800 objects, now resides in the Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement in St. Petersburg, Florida, where Ciccarello’s foundation opened its doors this month.

A 137,000-square-foot museum by architect Alberto Alfonso was constructed specifically for the collection. Ciccarello describes it as “a contemporary design that. . . pay[s] homage to the basic tenets of the Arts and Crafts movement.” Features such as American oak wood flooring—a material commonly used by early 20th-century American artisans—a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired five-story atrium with rooftop skylights, and a spiral staircase coated in Venetian plaster designed to evoke the Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Glasgow Rose, were chosen as subtle nods to the contents of the collection.

Lidded jar with daisies, 1903. Harriet Coulter Joor, designer and decorator, Joseph Fortune Meyer.

Photo: © Joe Brennan

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The collection encompasses a wide swath of the American Art and Crafts movement, including elaborately detailed pieces by woodworker Charles Rohlfs and historic Tiffany lamps. There are also scale installations of period rooms, such as the Iris Bathroom, which originated in industrialist Oliver Clay’s Cleveland mansion and includes more than 2,000 handmade Grueby tiles. Some highlights, according to Ciccarello, are “the amazing sideboard Gustav Stickley made for his own home in Syracuse, the intricate carvings of the entry hall Greene and Greene made for the Culbertson house, a tall vase depicting an elegant peacock by Fredrick Rhead, and the haunting portrait of sculptor Auguste Rodin taken by Edward Steichen.” All of these works stand out for their “beauty, originality, craftsmanship, and rarity,” he says.

Two inaugural exhibitions, comprised of objects from the permanent collection of the museum, are currently on display. The first is “Love, Labor, and Art: The Roycroft Enterprise,” which features printed books, furniture, metalwork, and lighting made by the Roycroft community. The second is “Lenses Embracing the Beautiful: Pictorial Photographs from the Two Red Roses Foundation,” which includes 150 pictorial photographs and rare books made by members of the Arts and Crafts movement. Both shows allow visitors to discover the intricacies of a movement that laid the foundation for what we know today as American craft.

Safe cabinet, c. 1901. Charles Rohlfs. 

Photo: © Joe Brennan