Gustav Stickley (1858-1942)

Second-generation German immigrant Gustav Stickley is remembered today as one of America’s leading furniture designers and arbiters of taste. A key figure in the Arts and Crafts movement, Stickley created an authentically American furniture designed to suit the needs of modern families. He also founded a groundbreaking magazine, The Craftsman, whereby he publicized his work and the philosophies that motivated it. Stickley’s furniture enjoyed widespread popularity among consumers. As importantly, however, his work influenced others in the craft and building professions, specially designers and architects who were receptive to Arts and Crafts ideals.

Updated: May 13, 2016

Introduction

The son of German-born immigrants, the American designer and publisher Gustav Stickley—best known for his Craftsman furniture, Craftsman home plans, bungalow designs, and The Craftsman magazine (published 1901-16)—was a major figure in the Arts and Crafts Movement in the United States. Through the pages of The Craftsmanas well as publications such as Craftsman Homes (1909) and More Craftsman Homes (1912), Stickley not only disseminated Arts and Crafts ideals, but also marketed his furniture and home plans to thousands of consumers, shaping American taste and influencing the development of design in the United States.[1]  

Family and Ethnic Background

Born on March 9, 1858,[2] in Osceola, Wisconsin, Gustav Stickley (born Gustavus Stoeckel)[3] was the eldest son of the eleven children of first-generation German immigrants Leopold Stoeckel and Barbara Schlager Stoeckel. (Between the 1840s and 1880s, their surname varied from Stoeckel to Stoeklee to Stickley, and by the early 1880s, the family had permanently changed it to Stickley.)[4] Very little is known about Gustav Stickley’s father, Leopold Stoeckel. According to an 1870 Wisconsin census, he was born in the Grand Duchy of Baden in 1821; it is unclear when he arrived in the United States.[5] Stickley’s mother, Barbara Schlager, was born to Johannes and Elisabetha Hetzel Schlager in Willstätt, Baden, on September 20, 1828. [6] In the 1830s and 1840s, many Germans set sail for America in search of economic opportunity, including a few of Barbara Schlager’s older siblings. Eventually, she decided to follow: in 1846, she left for the United States with her parents and remaining siblings, settling near her brother in Honesdale, Pennsylvania, where he had started a cracker company.[7] It is unclear how and when Leopold and Barbara first met, but they married in 1847, possibly in Pennsylvania, and by 1848 had relocated to Wisconsin, eventually settling in Osceola, where Leopold worked as a stonemason.[8] In 1869, the Stickleys separated for a brief period, eventually reuniting in 1870 and moving to Stillwater, Wisconsin.[9] The marriage lasted for a few more years, but in 1875, Barbara left Leopold[10] and moved to Lanesboro, Pennsylvania, to be near her brother Jacob Schlager.[11] Gustav, now eighteen years of age, began to work, along with some of his brothers—Charles (1860-1927), Albert (1862-1928), Leopold (1869-1957) and John George (1871-1921)—at his uncle’s factory in Pennsylvania.[12]

On September 12, 1883, shortly after founding the Stickley Brothers Company with his younger brothers Albert and Charles, Gustav Stickley married Pennsylvania native Eda Ann Simmons (1859-1919) and moved his family and factory to Binghamton, New York. Four years later, in 1887, they had their first child, Barbara (named after his mother), who was followed by five more children: Mildred (born 1888), Hazel (born 1890), Marion (born 1893), Gustav Jr. (born 1894), and Ruth (born 1897).

Business Development

Gustav Stickley first began working with wood in his uncle’s chair factory in Pennsylvania, an experience that transformed his life, as he recollected:

My first experience in furniture making came when I began work in a small chair factory in the hamlet of Brandt….It was the most common-place of stereotyped work, yet from it, I can date my love for working in wood and my appreciation of the beauty and interest to be found in its natural color, texture, and grain.[13] 

Stickley worked for the Brandt Chair Company until 1883, when he founded the Stickley Brothers Company in Susquehanna, Pennsylvania, with his brothers Albert and Charles. In 1884, they moved their business to Binghamton, New York, where they established a wholesale and retail business, selling Brandt chairs, Shaker furniture, and other goods.[14] Stickley constantly sought ways to expand his empire, and in 1888 he invested in the Binghamton streetcar line.[15] That same year, he left his brothers’ company to start a new venture with Elgin Simonds (1854-1903), forming the Stickley & Simonds Company in December. In 1889, Stickley collaborated with local financier G. Tracy Rogers (1854-c. 1930) on another railroad project.[16]

In 1890, Stickley & Simonds moved their firm to Auburn, New York, where Gustav ran the Auburn Prison’s furniture workshop. Using prison labor allowed Stickley to cut manufacturing costs. The practice was unpopular, and as scholar David Cathers remarked, “[it] revealed two traits that would later resurface in Stickley’s career. The first was his readiness, when it suited him, to flout industry norms. The second was his attraction to the role of mentor, in this instance training inmates to make chairs.”[17] It also shows Stickley’s early interest in social reform, which was not uncommon among Arts and Crafts proponents at the time.[18]

In 1893, Stickley & Simonds built a new factory in Eastwood, New York. Two years later, in April 1895, Stickley made his first trip to Europe,[19] where he encountered the art and architecture of the British Arts and Crafts movement.[20] Stickley had read the writings of John Ruskin and William Morris and, like many of his day, was particularly influenced by Ruskin’s Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849), in which Ruskin argued, among other things, for the honest use of materials and the avoidance of deceit in design. Although Stickley never met Morris or Ruskin, he likely saw a Morris chair on view at Morris and Company. A few years later, Stickley would produce his own Craftsman version of the iconic adjustable-back armchair; it would become one of his bestselling designs.

Stickley returned to Europe the following year, and when he came back to the United States, he began experimenting with new designs, materials, and forms of production, investing in technology that allowed him to shape wood into imitation bamboo, which had become incredibly popular in the United States in the wake of the “Japan Craze” following the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition.[21] That year Stickley & Simonds were also commissioned by the Waldorf Astoria to make a set of mahogany pieces for the hotel’s foyer.[22]

Despite, or perhaps because of their success, Stickley and Simonds did not last long as business partners. On May 5, 1898, in the absence of Simonds, Stickley proposed that the firm’s board dissolve the Stickley & Simonds Company and create a new venture called the Gustave Stickley Company. The board, predominantly composed of Stickley family members, approved the motion. Stickley then fired Simonds (who was the president of the company) and made himself president and principal owner.[23] A year later, Stickley tried to persuade his peers and competitors in the furniture industry to merge into a single organization, under the proposed name of United Chair Manufacturers. While this never came to fruition, it demonstrates Stickley’s consistent interest in not only expanding his empire, but also in dominating furniture production in the United States.[24]

In 1900, Stickley’s furniture underwent a significant shift, and ideas that had been percolating since his travels to Europe began to take actual form. As Stickley recollected:

In 1900 I stopped using the standard patterns and finishes, and began to make all kinds of furniture after my own designs, independently of what other people were doing, or of any necessity to fit my designs, woods and finishes to any other factory. For about a year I experimented with more or less fantastic forms…. My frequent journeys to Europe…interested me much in the decorative use of plant forms…. The Arts and Crafts movement was more nearly in harmony with what I had in mind, but even that did not involve a return to the sturdy and primitive forms that were meant for usefulness alone, and I began to work along the lines of a direct application of the fundamental principles of structure to the designing and craftsmanship of my furniture.[25]

Inspired by his travels abroad as well as by the work of architects and designers such as Morris, Baillie Scott, C.R. Ashbee, and C. F. A. Voysey, Stickley moved away from mass-producing revival style pieces towards simpler, predominantly handmade furniture that drew on motifs from nature, such as his Celandine and Poppy floriform tables, which found immediate commercial success.[26] At the time, Stickley also became an advocate for Arts and Crafts ideals, promoting the simple life, honest materials, unity of design, and greater use of handicraft.[27]

With each passing year, Stickley’s designs moved towards ever simpler, rectilinear forms that highlighted the natural grain and texture of the wood.[28] His favorite material was American white oak, not only for the meandering lines that resulted from quarter-sawing the strong wood, but also for its symbolic associations, as Stickley would write: “As an American by birth, I chose to work with native growths.”[29] Stickley, like many others in the Progressive Era, was interested in a return to a simpler and more rustic life, and he viewed native American oak as “strong and primitive” and as a “robust, manly sort of wood.”[30] During this time, Stickley also began using ammonia to fume his oak, in order to finish the wood, and bring out its texture and grain.[31] He wanted to achieve his “color-effects largely from wood,” and his earliest furniture came in three colors—gray-brown, green, and a darker gray. [32] Although Stickley’s furniture seemed to embody the Arts and Crafts ideals of simplicity and honest materials, most of his pieces were fabricated through a combination of handiwork and modern machinery; even Stickley’s early Arts and Crafts or “Mission” style pieces had hidden screws and concealed iron brackets.

In July 1900, Stickley successfully showed his “New Furniture,” as he called it, at the Furniture Exposition in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The positive reception of his recent work led to an agreement with the Chicago-based Tobey Furniture Company to market and distribute his new line, which Tobey promoted as “modern.” That year, Stickley expanded his business once again, relocated his family to a larger home in Syracuse, and leased new office space at the Crouse Stables, where he could display his new furniture line. The following year, Stickley exhibited his furniture at the 1901 Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. Some of the tea tables and plant stands on view were the products of a collaboration with Grueby Pottery (which also had a display nearby) and perfectly embodied William Morris’s oft-quoted maxim, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” Indeed, Stickley’s early plant stands, with their inset green matte glazed Grueby tiles, were both aesthetically pleasing and utilitarian.

The shift in Stickley’s design philosophy towards Arts and Crafts ideals was evident not only in his furniture, but also in his decision to rebrand his business. In 1901, Stickley renamed his company the United Crafts, adopting the medieval joiner’s compass as his trademark. This symbol, first used on the back cover of his catalog Chips from the Workshops of Gustave Stickley, was accompanied by the Flemish motto “Als Ik Kan” (which is loosely translated “As well as I can”).[33] As Stickley described in his foreword to the first issue of The Craftsman:

In accepting the Morris principle, the United Crafts recognize all that it implies: First: the raising of the general intelligence of the workman, by the increase of his leisure and the multiplication of his means of culture and pleasure. Second: a knowledge of drawing as a basis of all the manual arts and as one of the essentials of a primary education which shall be worthy of the name.”[34]

The year 1901 was a pivotal one for Stickley. He not only took his company in new directions but also ventured into the publishing world, founding The Craftsman magazine, which would become the mouthpiece for the Arts and Crafts Movement in America.[35] A skilled businessman and savvy entrepreneur, Stickley appreciated how much business could result from such a publication. As historian Peter Betjemann has argued:

The near-simultaneous founding of The Craftsman magazine and the Craftsman Furniture Company (as well as the extension of the enterprise to include a publishing company) marks the inextricability of words and things, printing and manufacturing concerns, in Stickley’s business; in practice, Stickley presumed that purchasers would want to read about the theoretical foundations of Craftsman furniture and, in reverse, that reading about objects would lead the magazine’s subscribers to buy them.[36]

The early issues of The Craftsman were predominantly written and edited by Syracuse University professor and critic Irene Sargent (1852-1932).[37] In its first years, the magazine was filled with the writings of Morris and Ruskin, as well as the American Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson.[38] Stickley devoted the inaugural issue of The Craftsman to William Morris; the second issue celebrated the life and work of John Ruskin.

AlthoughThe Craftsman began, in Stickley’s words, as “a small illustrated pamphlet, devoted largely to an exposition of Craftsman ideals,”[39] it quickly broadened to include Craftsman home plans, model interiors furnished with Stickley furniture, as well as essays on art, city planning, civic life, education, social conditions, and politics.[40]The Craftsman was prescriptive in nature, advising its readers on every aspect of home life and design, from how to decorate one’s living room to what one should read (and even to the type of dog breed best suited for a Craftsman home: an Airedale Terrier).[41]

An incredibly influential magazine, The Craftsman shaped the taste of middle-class Americans as well as the designs of many architects and artists. Charles Sumner Greene (1868-1957) and Henry Mather Greene (1870-1954), best known for their “ultimate bungalows,” such as the Gamble House (1908-09), were inspired by Stickley's magazine, especially the articles on the British Arts and Crafts Movement as well as those on the arts of the East, and regularly clipped articles from its pages.[42] As historian Edward R. Bosley has noted: “At what point Charles Greene began to clip illustrations from The Craftsman is unknown, but his work soon began to reflect an intimate awareness of its aesthetic message.”[43] Stickley’s influence on the Greenes can be found as early as 1902, when the brothers furnished their James A. Culbertson House in Pasadena, California, with pieces that had been illustrated in early Craftsman issues.[44]

In 1902, Stickley began producing clock cases; he also opened a metal shop and a short-lived book-binding business.[45] The following year, Stickley made one of his most important hires, when he brought architect, artist, and craftsman Harvey Ellis (1852-1904) onto his staff at the magazine. Both Ellis and Stickley shared a passion for the art and ideals of the British Arts and Crafts movement. Although he worked for Stickley only very briefly (he died in January of 1904), Ellis had a profound impact on every aspect of Stickley’s production, from his magazine to his furniture designs.[46] Under Ellis’s influence, Stickley’s furniture evolved from solid, heavy-shaped pieces to lighter forms with tapered legs; the pieces he produced with inlay added by Ellis are now considered by many to be his finest. That year American architect E. G. W. (Ernest George Washington) Dietrich (1857-1924) also designed the first house officially called a “Craftsman House”; it was published in the May 1903 issue of The Craftsman.

Always reinventing himself and his business, Stickley dropped the “e” from his first name in 1903. A year later, he changed his company’s name once again, abandoning the model of a medieval guild for the more modern “The Craftsman Workshops.” That same year, in 1904, he began marketing his products under the brand name “Craftsman.” While Stickley had always used machinery, from 1904 to 1912 he invested heavily in equipment that would streamline his production and increase his output. He now started producing what would be called standard Stickley furniture: simpler, standardized forms that were easier to make in large quantities in order to meet the growing demand.[47]

The year 1904 also saw the inauguration of The Craftsman Homebuilders Club, which published home plans—including exterior elevations, floor plans, and interior designs—for American middle-class families.[48] The Homebuilders Club became an increasingly important part of The Craftsman. Each issue contained at least one house with plans that could be ordered from the magazine. Although it is unknown how many were ordered or actually built, they were undoubtedly popular and Craftsman-style homes can be found nationwide.[49] The plans were generally for small, middle-class homes. They typically had a hearth at the center and a large, multi-purpose living space for the family, along with a dining room, library, kitchen, and bedrooms on the second floor. Stickley believed that Americans both wanted and needed a simpler life. In keeping with this conviction, he promoted the Arts and Crafts lifestyle and sold house plans that were simple and practical, with wide doorways, open spaces, built-in bookcases, window seats, and porches.[50] The plans, which were free, were easily adaptable to the specific needs of clients and contractors. One could even order Craftsman light fixtures, furniture, and hardware for the house. Indeed, as scholar Mary Ann Smith pointed out, while many architects of the period, such as Frank Lloyd Wright and Greene & Greene, “designed furniture to be used in houses they designed, … Stickley designed houses to fit his furniture.”[51] His sideboards, chairs, and library tables were prominently featured in his housing plans, and his hexagonal library table was one of his bestselling items.

Of all the architectural forms that Stickley published in the pages of The Craftsman, the bungalow was by far the most popular. A truly democratic and affordable housing form, a bungalow is characterized by its open interior, one- or one-and-a-half-story plan, and is typically constructed of natural materials. It normally features shingled, low-pitched overhanging roofs and wrap-around porches. Stickley’s promotion of the bungalow through the pages of The Craftsman contributed a great deal to the “bungalow craze” that swept the nation at the time; Craftsman cottages, bungalows, and bungalow courts popped up from coast to coast, from Cape Cod to Pasadena.[52]

While the scholarship on Stickley has mainly focused on the influence of the British Arts and Crafts movement on his philosophy and design, Stickley also followed artistic developments on the continent, and The Craftsman frequently featured articles on German art and architecture, both historical and contemporary, as well as reviews of German exhibitions in the United States and abroad.[53] In 1904, for example, when visiting the German exhibit at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, Stickley was deeply affected by the interiors and furnishings that he saw on display. Thereafter, he wrote a review for The Craftsman, describing the designs as of “great value to all persons in the United States who are interested in the industrial and decorative arts, whether as producers or consumers.” [54] Three months later, Stickley positively reviewed the Germanic exhibits at the St. Louis Exposition, illustrating the interiors that were on display (such as Austrian architect Joseph Maria Olbrich’s scheme for a fireplace), and using the exhibition as an opportunity to encourage Americans to find their own national art.[55]  

Stickley’s reviews of Germanic art were not always favorable, however, and three years later, he was much more critical of the Viennese Secession. In this essay, Stickley outlined the movement’s sources, explaining that while it had a “certain sturdy simplicity that…seemed to be in harmony with the German national character,”[56] it was fundamentally English in origin. For Stickley, Secessionist art was “debased into commercialism pure and simple,” and “in most cases negative, representing merely a protest against existing forms and traditions, and not the necessity to express some vital development in national life or thought, or the spirit of the age considered as a whole. It had no roots in the life of the people; it was founded upon no need, and so it has always resembled the fantastic flowering of a parasite, rather than the healthy growth of a plant rooted deeply in the soil of national life.”[57] Generally speaking, roots and tree metaphors figured importantly in Stickley’s writings, but this is unsurprising given his Arts and Crafts ideology and his origins as a furniture maker.

Although Stickley always considered himself an American, as the son of German immigrants, he was deeply concerned with national origins. Indeed, his German heritage, as well as his experience as the son of immigrants, certainly shaped his views, work process, and politics, as scholar Mark Alan Hewitt has noted:

Like many second-generation immigrants, [Stickley] was fiercely patriotic and intensely committed to his adopted land. He valued honest, diligent labor, but also had great respect for learning and intellect. He was a social progressive, but could not warm to socialism. In family matters he remained a staunch traditionalist, clinging stubbornly to Old World attitudes toward women’s roles and paternalism. And, like the Old World freigesprochen, he patiently crafted his objects and his life with an abiding belief in the redeeming power of work. [58]

Though he certainly drew upon Old World traditions as part of his practice, Stickley actively sought to create new and authentically American homes and furnishings, in many cases incorporating modern production processes. He viewed his products not simply as commercial goods but as part of a significant movement, sprung from American soil. In a later essay that Stickley wrote on “The Craftsman Movement,” he described his company’s growth in evolutionary terms, with the newly constructed Craftsman Building in New York City (1913) representing the “next stage” in the movement’s “evolution.”[59] Employing a metaphor drawn from nature to symbolize his expanding empire, Stickley went on to explain:

I did not realize at the time that in making those few pieces of strong, simple furniture, I had started a new movement….To me it was only furniture; to them it was religion. And eventually it became a religion with me as well. Thus, unconsciously a Craftsman style was evolved and developed, a style that gradually found its way into the homes of the people, pushing out a branch here, a branch there, first in one direction and then in another, wherever it met with sympathy and encouragement.[60]

In 1908, as part of an effort to keep spreading these metaphorical branches and to bring the Craftsman message to new audiences, Stickley acquired 650 acres in Parsippany, New Jersey, where he planned to run a utopian farm and school community to be called Craftsman Farms.[61] Stickley was infused by an immigrant’s optimism and by his desire to share his good fortune with others. He wrote: “This is my Garden of Eden. This is the realization of the dreams that I had when I worked as a lad. It is because my own dreams have come true that I want other boys to dream out their own good future here for themselves.”[62] Stickley planned to live at Craftsman Farms with his family and to educate young men about citizenship through work on the farm.[63] That year Stickley also intended to launch another publication, for farmers, The Yeoman, but it never materialized.

In 1909, Stickley formed the Craftsman House Building Company and published the book Craftsman Homes, a compilation of house plans that had previously appeared in Craftsman magazine.[64] Through such publications, Stickley reached thousands of Americans, shaping their tastes as well as the development of American architecture. [65] That year Stickley also wrote an essay on why the Craftsman style appealed to so many Americans:

[I]t became apparent that we were evolving a type of people distinct from all others,--a type essentially American. And the distinguishing characteristic of this type is the power to assimilate so swiftly the kind of culture which leads to the making of permanent standards of life and art…. Such Americans have fundamental intelligence and the power of discrimination, and the direct thinking that results from these qualities inevitably produces a certain openness of mind that responds very quickly to anything which seems to have a real and permanent value….As we grow older we show an unmistakable tendency to get away from shams and to demand the real thing.[66]

Indeed, the plans and designs that appeared inThe Craftsman and in Stickley’s books struck American consumers as authentic and as different from other offerings on the market. In 1911, Stickley finished construction on thelog house at Craftsman Farms, and he and his family relocated to the country estate. In 1912, Stickley opened another retail store in Washington, DC, following the one he had opened in Boston three years earlier.

Stickley’s constant expansion eventually led to his company’s demise. The following year, in 1913, Stickley leased a twelve-story building in midtown Manhattan. The Craftsman Building, as it would come to be called, was an enormous complex: on the first and second floors, Stickley showcased furniture made at the Craftsman workshops in Eastwood, New York; the third and fourth floors exhibited textile samples that Stickley had purchased on his travels abroad; floors five through eight consisted of showrooms where other manufacturers and builders could display their goods; floors nine through eleven housed the offices of The Craftsman magazine, including a drafting room, library, and lecture hall; and on the top floor shoppers could enjoy a meal at the Craftsman restaurant, where they could order a Craftsman steak or a Craftsman salad that had been grown on Stickley’s Craftsman Farms.

By the end of 1913, Stickley’s company was operating at a loss, in part from overexpansion, but also due to increased competition, Craftsman imitators, and changing tastes.[67] Ever the optimist, Stickley was not yet deterred, and he made an impassioned plea for his products (and his movement) in the pages of The Craftsman:

Today the Craftsman Movement stands not only for simple, well made furniture, conceived in the spirit of true craftsmanship, designed for beauty as well as comfort, and built to last, it stands also for a distinct type of American architecture, for well built, democratic homes, planned for and owned by the people who live in them, homes that solve the servant problem by their simple, pleasant arrangement, and meet the needs of wholesome family life. Big, light, airy living rooms that foster the social spirit are a part of its purpose; it holds as essential the open fireplace as the natural nucleus for happy indoor life. The plain yet decorative woodwork and built-in fittings that help to simplify housework and produce a restful homelike atmosphere are inherent in its plan. The sheltered places for outdoor dining, rest and play, and the healthful sleeping porch which is coming to be recognized as so vital a part of the modern home are inevitably a part of the Craftsman home. It stands, too, for the companionship of gardens, the wholesomeness of country and suburban living and the health and efficiency which these imply. It aims to be instrumental in the restoration of the people to the land and the land to the people. It is always for progress, for scientific farming, for closer cooperation between producer and consumer, and less waste in both agricultural and industrial fields. It stands for the rights of the children to health and happiness, through and education that will develop hands as well as heads; an education that will give them that love and enthusiasm for useful work which is every child’s rightful heritage, and fit them to take their places as efficient members of a great democracy. Civic improvement is close to its heart, political as well as social and industrial progress; it desires to strengthen honest craftsmanship in every branch of human activity, and strives for a form of art which shall express the spirit of the American people…[68]

Unfortunately, Stickley was unable to save his company. He even tried modifying his designs, adding ornamentation and painted elements, to appeal to changing tastes in American culture, but to no avail.[69] On March 23, 1915, Stickley filed for bankruptcy.[70]The Craftsman continued to be published through December 1916, but eventually the publication folded, and Stickley lost his furniture factory, the Craftsman Building, and Craftsman Farms.[71] In 1918, the firm’s common stock was distributed equally amongst the three partners: Gustav Stickley, Leopold Stickley, and G. Tracy Rogers.[72] Stickley briefly worked for his brothers’ furniture business, before moving to Syracuse. After his wife’s death in 1919, he moved in with his daughter Barbara and her husband, Ben Wiles. In 1919, Stickley and Wiles founded the short-lived Lustre Wood Products Company, making toys and children’s furniture. According to a relative, he “never expressed any bitterness at the failure of his business ventures,” and continued to experiment with new designs and finishes for the rest of his career, working in relative obscurity until his death in 1942.[73]

Conclusion

The son of German immigrants, Gustav Stickley presented himself as an American innovator, and rarely mentioned his German heritage. Indeed, he not only reinvented himself, Americanizing his own name, but also frequently changed his company’s brand and identity, in order to market his products to American consumers. Yet Stickley's early years and his experience as a second-generation immigrant certainly shaped both his person and his work, and can be seen in his adaptability and work ethic, as well as his ongoing investment in new products, ventures, and modes of production.

When Stickley was at the peak of his career, his furniture could be found in stores nationwide, and Craftsman homes and bungalows were being built from coast to coast. Through his groundbreaking publication, theCraftsman magazine, Stickley not only spread the tenets of the British Arts and Crafts movement, but also adapted and transformed them for an American market. A Progressive-minded capitalist, Stickley sought to create authentically American furniture suited to the needs of modern families, selling his furniture and house plans nationwide through his magazine and through specially issued books.[74]

Stickley was complex and contradictory: he was at once an idealistic reformer and a shrewd businessman; he was an Arts and Crafts proponent who espoused handmade goods yet utilized the machine, and an ambitious man who promoted the simple life. While much of Stickley’s personal life and early history remains a mystery, his contributions to American design and architecture are clear.[75] Stickley was not only one of the key figures in the Arts and Crafts movement in America, but also one of the twentieth century’s most important and influential designers.[76]

Notes

[1] A special thanks to Barbara Fuldner, David Cathers, Edward R. Bosley, Kevin W. Tucker, Vonda Givens, and Kristen McCauley for their help with my research for this essay.

[2] Stickley’s birthdate is also listed as March 9, 1857, in some of the literature. According to his obituary, however, the correct birthdate is 1858. “G. Stickley Dies; Furniture Maker,” New York Times, April 22, 1942.

[3] Born Gustavus Stoeckel, Stickley’s name underwent many changes, as has been documented by Marilyn Fish in her excellent early history of Stickley. As she notes, the 1870 Wisconsin census listed him as “Gustavus.”  Stickley varied the spelling of his name over the years, and for a period went by “Gustave Stickley,” until 1903, when he dropped the “e” from his first name. See Marilyn Fish, Gustav Stickley: Heritage & Early Years (North Caldwell, NJ: Little Pond Press, 1997), 31, note 1.

[4] Fish, Gustav Stickley: Heritage & Early Years, 31, note 1.

[5] There are no known naturalization records for Leopold Stoeckel, and it is unknown when he arrived in the United States. Ibid., 6.

[6] This, and all of the early family history, is drawn from Fish, Gustav Stickley: Heritage & Early Years. See especially pp. 5-7, and p. 31, notes 1-11, for more information regarding family genealogy, emigration, and census records.

[7] Ibid., 6-7.

[8] Ibid., 7-11.

[9] Ibid., 16.

[10] Leopold came to be with his family in Lanesboro between 1877 and 1878, but was unable to reconcile with his wife. Nothing more is known of Leopold after 1878. See Ibid., 26-27.

[11] For more on Jacob Schlager and his family, see Ibid., 20-25.

[12] Many of Stickley’s siblings went on to work in the furniture industry, sometimes as partners with Gustav, sometimes as his competitors. In 1900, Leopold and John George (J. G.) founded the L. and J. G. Stickley Company (now Stickley) in 1900 in Fayetteville, New York, in close proximity to Gustav’s factory. Their designs were often derivative of their older brother’s, and may have contributed to the eventual demise of Gustav’s empire. Their company is still in business today, producing traditional, Mission, and contemporary style furniture: http://www.stickley.com.

For more on the other Stickley brothers, see Michael E. Clark and Jill Thomas-Clark, The Stickley Brothers: The Quest for an American Voice (Salt Lake City, UT: Gibbs Smith, Publisher, 2002); Marilyn Fish, Gustav Stickley, 1884-1900: The Stickley Brothers, Stickley & Simonds, and the Gustave Stickley Co. (North Caldwell, NJ: Little Pond Press, 1999); and Donald A. Davidoff and Stephen Gray, with a foreword by Beverly K. Brandt, Innovation and Derivation: The Contribution of L. & J. G. Stickley to the Arts and Crafts Movement (Morris Plains, NJ: Craftsman Farms Foundation, Inc., 1996).

[13] Chips from the Workshop of Gustave Stickley (Syracuse, NY: G. Stickley, 1901).

[14] After the end of the American Civil War, the town of Binghamton, New York, which is situated where the Susquehanna and Chenango Rivers meet, became a manufacturing boomtown, known for producing cigars, leather, lumber, and furniture, which likely attracted the Stickleys.

[15] In his obituary, Stickley was remembered as a “furniture manufacturer, publisher, and operator of the first electric street car line in America.” See “G. Stickley Dies; Furniture Maker,” New York Times, April 22, 1942.

[16] The deed for the Stickley and Simonds Co., and the deed for Stickley and New York Central & Hudson Railroad Co., can be found in Box 5, Folders 1 and 2, respectively, in the Stickley Family Collection, 1879-1978, at the Benson Ford Research Center, The Henry Ford, Dearborn, MI. Accession #1624.

[17] David M. Cathers, Gustav Stickley (London: Phaidon, 2003), 16. Stickley ran the prison workshop from 1891 until 1897, when it was closed.

[18] There is a wide literature on social reform and the Arts and Crafts Movement in America. See especially: Nonie Gadsden, Art & Reform: Sara Galner, the Saturday Evening Girls, and the Paul Revere Pottery (Boston: MFA Publications, 2006); Marilee B. Meyer, et al. Inspiring Reform: Boston's Arts and Crafts Movement (Wellesley, MA: Davis Museum and Cultural Center, Wellesley College, 1997); Wendy Kaplan and Eileen Boris, "The Art That Is Life": The Arts & Crafts Movement in America, 1875-1920 (Boston: Little, Brown, 1987); Eileen Boris, Art and Labor: Ruskin, Morris, and the Craftsman Ideal in America (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1986); and Robert J. Clark, The Arts and Crafts Movement in America, 1876-1916 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1972).

[19] While abroad, Stickley definitely visited England and some of the Continent, but it is unknown whether he visited his parents’ homeland of Germany on this or subsequent trips to Europe.

[20] For more on the Arts and Crafts movement, its ideals, and its international influence, see Judith A. Barter, Apostles of Beauty: Arts and Crafts from Britain to Chicago (Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, 2009); Rosalind P. Blakesley, The Arts and Crafts Movement (London: Phaidon, 2006); Karen Livingstone and Linda Parry, International Arts and Crafts (London: Victoria & Albert Museum, 2005); Wendy Kaplan and Alan Crawford, The Arts and Crafts Movement in Europe and America: Design for the Modern World 1880-1920 (Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2004); Elizabeth Cumming and Wendy Kaplan, The Arts and Crafts Movement (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1991); and Gillian Naylor, The Arts and Crafts Movement: A Study of Its Sources, Ideals and Influence on Design Theory (London: Studio Vista, 1971).

[21] For more on the “Japan Craze,” see Warren I. Cohen, East Asian Art and American Culture: A Study in International Relations (New York: Columbia University Press, 1992).

[22] Stickley’s predominately machine-made furniture from this period was still quite elaborate: rocking chairs with acorn finials and upholstered tapestry seats.

[23] The board consisted of Gustav and Eda Stickley, Elgin Simonds, his wife Jennie Simonds, and Gustav’s younger brother Leopold.

[24] For more on his attempt to create the United Chair Manufacturers, see Mary Ann Smith, Gustav Stickley, The Craftsman (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1983), 6.

[25] Chips from the Workshop of Gustave Stickley.

[26] An October 1900 House Beautiful article promoted Stickley’s new line of furniture, especially his Poppy Table, and brought it to a national audience.

[27] Stickley, even after 1898, continued to use the machine in his workshop and factories. Americans, as has been widely noted, had a strikingly different relationship to mechanized production than their British counterparts in the Arts and Crafts Movement. Frank Lloyd Wright, for example, maintained that machines, if used correctly, could democratize art, as he famously argued in his 1901 lecture, “The Art and Craft of the Machine”: “The machine, by its wonderful cutting, shaping, smoothing and repetitive capacity, has made it possible to so use it without waste that the poor as well as the rich may enjoy to-day beautiful surface treatments of clean, strong forms.” Frank Lloyd Wright in Robert C. Twombly, Frank Lloyd Wright: Essential Texts (New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 2009), 58. Stickley similarly wrote on the positive and negative aspects of machine production in his essay, “The use and abuse of machinery, and its relation to the arts and crafts,” The Craftsman 11:2 (November 1906): 202-07. See also Miles Orvell’s analysis of Stickley’s use of the machine as both a force for democracy and a tool of industrial capitalism in Orvell, The Real Thing: Imitation and Authenticity in American Culture, 1880-1940 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989), 158-59.

[28] Some of Stickley's earliest Arts and Crafts tables had inset Grueby tiles. By 1904, Stickley had further simplified his designs, using the wood grain itself as the only ornamentation.

[29] Gustav Stickley, “Thoughts Occasioned by an Anniversary: A Plea for Democratic Art,” The Craftsman 7 (October 1904): 47.

[30] Stickley, “Our Native Woods and the Craftsman Method of Finishing Them.” In Gustav Stickley, Craftsman Homes (Syracuse, NY: Craftsman, 1909), 185. For an analysis of Stickley’s Progressive politics, see Robert Winter, “Gustav Stickley, Progressive,” in David Cathers, ed., Gustav Stickley’s Craftsman Farms: A Pictorial History (Morris Plains, NJ: Published by Turn of the Century Editions in association with the Craftsman Farms Press, 1999), 76-85, and also Jackson Lears, No Place of Grace: Anti-Modernism and the Transformation of American Culture, 1880-1920 (New York: Pantheon Books, 1981), 59-96.

[31] Historian Peter Betjeman described the caustic process: “Stickley fumed his oak with highly concentrated ammonia vapors; the 26 percent solution (household ammonia is 4 percent) burns skin and eyes and sears the lungs if inhaled. Today, one wears a respirator and other protective gear when reproducing the Craftsman finish.” Peter Betjemann, Talking Shop: The Language of Craft in an Age of Consumption (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2011), 149.

[32] Gustav Stickley, “Thoughts Occasioned by an Anniversary: A Plea for Democratic Art,” 47.

[33] William Morris had also used the Flemish phrase in his home, Red House, at Bexleyheath in London.

[34] Unsigned, ‘Foreword,” The Craftsman 1:1 (October 1901): ii.

[35] The Craftsman has been completely digitized, and is available on CD-ROM and at the University of Wisconsin Digital Library for the Decorative Arts and Material Culture: Image and Text Collections: http://uwdc.library.wisc.edu/collections/DLDecArts. For an index of The Craftsman, see also Marilyn Fish, The New Craftsman Index (Lambertville, NJ: Arts and Crafts Quarterly Press, 1997).

[36] Betjemann, Talking Shop, 144.

[37] Irene Sargent played a crucial role in the development of The Craftsman. For more on Sargent, see Cleota Reed, “Gustav Stickley and Irene Sargent: United Crafts and The Craftsman,”Syracuse University Library Associates Courier 30 (1995), 35-50; Marilyn Fish’s essay on Sargent in The New Craftsman Index (Lambertville, NJ: Arts & Crafts Quarterly Press, 1997), 15-21; and Joseph Cunningham, “Irene Sargent and the Craftsman Ideology,” in Kevin W. Tucker, Gustav Stickley and the American Arts & Crafts Movement (Dallas, TX: Dallas Museum of Art, 2010).

[38] Stickley’s philosophy was also shaped by the writings of American Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson: for instance, he viewed The Craftsman as a “translator,” an idea he adapted from Emerson’s 1844 essay “The Poet.”

[39] Gustav Stickley, “The Craftsman Movement: Its Origins and Growth,” The Craftsman 25:1 (October 1913): 23.

[40] The Craftsman covered a range of art movements, and devoted a significant number of pages to American art, so much so that by 1914, it warranted an index. See “Articles on American Art that have been published in The Craftsman,” The Craftsman (February 1914): 512-13.

[41] Linda H. Roth and Elizabeth M. Kornhauser, At Home with Gustav Stickley: Arts & Crafts from the Stephen Gray Collection (Hartford, CT: Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, 2008), 16

[42] For example, there is a 1903 United Crafts Brochure on “The Simple Structural Style of Household Furniture” in Charles Sumner Greene’s Papers, Greene & Greene Archives, Huntington Library, San Marino, CA. Thank you to Ted Bosley for bringing this to my attention.

[43] Edward R. Bosley, Greene & Greene (London: Phaidon, 2000), 39.

[44] Daniel D. Reiff, Houses from Books: Treatises, Pattern Books, and Catalogs in American Architecture, 1738-1950: A History and Guide (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000): 173. Stickley would later feature the Greenes’ architecture in the magazine, publishing the home of Charles Sumner Greene in his July 1907 issue, as part of an article on the influence of Japanese architecture on American design. See Henrietta P. Keith, “The Trail of Japanese Influence in Our Modern Domestic Architecture,” The Craftsman 12:4 (July 1907): 446-51.

[45] That year also saw the founding of the L. & J. G. Stickley Company in nearby Fayetteville, New York, by Leopold Stickley (who had just resigned from the board of The Gustave Stickley Company), and his brother John George. In 1905, following in Gustav's footsteps, they issued their own catalog, with a trademark label quite similar to their brother's. Patents for Stickley family designs can be found in Series I, Boxes 1 and 2, in the Stickley Family Collection, 1879-1978, Acc. 1624, Benson Ford Research Center, The Henry Ford, which contains, among other things, the financial records of the brothers.

[46] For more on Ellis and his influence on and collaborations with Stickley, see chapter four in Cathers, Gustav Stickley, 80-101; and Eileen Manning Michels, Reconfiguring Harvey Ellis (Edina, MN: Beaver’s Pond Press, 2004).

[47] For more on the Craftsman brand, as well as how Stickley marketed his designs to the American middle class, see Arlette Klaric, “Gustav Stickley’s Designs for the Home: An Activist Aesthetic for the Upwardly Mobile,” in Patricia Johnston, ed., Seeing High & Low: Representing Social Conflict in American Visual Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006), 177-93.

[48] See Reiff, Houses from Books: Treatises, Pattern Books, and Catalogs in American Architecture, 1738-1950, as in note 43, for a history of mail-order housing designs, as well as a focused study on Craftsman housing plans.

[49] Over 222 different home plans—including designs for farmhouses, cottages, and bungalows—could be ordered through the Club. See also Robert Winter and Alexander Vertikoff, Craftsman Style (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2004).

[50] Stickley also desired that sort of life for himself, eventually building his ideal Craftsman Farms in 1908 in Morris Plains, New Jersey. As Mark Alan Hewitt described: “From his writings we know that Stickley saw the traditional, Old World values of home, family, and agrarian life being eroded by materialism and capitalism. And we know that he associated many negative values of commercial capitalism with architects and builders who did not adhere to arts and crafts principles. So it is consistent with these beliefs that the Club House [at Craftsman Farms] be a critique of the complex and overwrought houses that wealthy capitalists of Stickley’s generation were building in the country. His own house would epitomize the simple life.” See Hewitt, “Words, Deeds and Artifice: Gustav Stickley’s Club House at Craftsman Farms,” Winterthur Portfolio 31:1 (Spring 1996), 45.

[51] Smith, Gustav Stickley, The Craftsman, 165

[52] For more on American and California bungalows, as well as the “bungalow craze,” see Robert Winter and Alexander Vertikoff, American Bungalow Style (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996); Paul Duchscherer and Douglas Keister, The Bungalow: America’s Arts and Crafts Home (New York: Penguin Studio, 1995); Clifford Edward Clark’s chapter “The Bungalow Craze” in The American Family Home, 1800-1960 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1986), 171-92; and Robert Winter, The California Bungalow (Los Angeles: Hennessey & Ingalls, 1980). Stickley was not the only person to promote the bungalow through publications. See also: William T. Comstock, Bungalows, Camps and Mountains Houses (New York: W. T. Comstock, 1908); Henry H. Saylor, Bungalows: Their Design, Construction and Furnishing (Philadelphia: Winston, 1911); and Fred T. Hodgson and Ernest N. Braucher, Practical Bungalows and Cottages for Town and Country (Chicago: F. J. Drake, 1912).

[53] See also Earl Sperry’s “The Four Great Cathedrals of the Rhineland,” The Craftsman 2:3 (June 1902): 118-37; Irene Sargent, “German and Netherlander: Their Guilds and Art,” The Craftsman 3:4 (January 1903): 201-14; Frederick W. Coburn, “Harvard’s Germanic Museum,” The Craftsman 8:4 (July 1905): 490-96; and Heinrich Pudor, “Trend of Modern German Feeling in Art and Architecture made Evident at Nürnberg Exposition,” The Craftsman 11:3 (December 1906): 319-31.

[54] Gustav Stickley, “The German Exhibit at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition,” The Craftsman 6:5 (August 1904): 506.

[55] Stickley, “Thoughts Occasioned by an Anniversary: A Plea for Democratic Art,” 44.

[56] Gustav Stickley, "Secession Art in Europe: its Growth, Meaning and Failure," The Craftsman
13:1 (October 1907): 38.

[57] Ibid.

[58] Mark Alan Hewitt, Gustav Stickley’s Craftsman Farms: The Quest for an Arts and Crafts Utopia (Syracuse NY: Syracuse University Press, 2001), 24.

[59] Stickley, “The Craftsman Movement: Its Origins and Growth,” 18.

[60] Ibid., 23.

[61] Stickley published his plans in his magazine. See, e.g., The Craftsman 21:2 (November 1911): 196.

[62] Gustav Stickley, as quoted in Raymond Riordan, “A Visit to Craftsman Farms: The Impression it Made and the Result: The Gustav Stickley School for Citizenship,” The Craftsman 23:2 (November 1912): 152.

[63] While the school never came to fruition, Stickley and his family did build a log cabin home and a country estate on the site, where he and his family lived from 1911 to 1915. Craftsman Farms itself is a portrait of Stickley, and embodies many of his contradictions, as Mark Alan Hewitt observed: “The ‘Craftsman House’ was thus both a traditional manor house with Germanic overtones befitting its owner and a demonstration of the moral virtue of handicrafts and ‘honest construction.’ It was placed to take advantage of a rail line (so that Stickley could ship furniture built on nearby properties), and it had the social cachet of being in a bona fide estate enclave. It is not surprising that as a successful businessman, this second-generation immigrant would have identified with the image of the ‘captains of industry’ and their large country estates. What is paradoxical is that he could simultaneously embrace an elitist domestic ideal while also implicitly criticizing the kind of architecture that supported country life in fin de siècle America.” Hewitt, “Words, Deeds and Artifice: Gustav Stickley’s Club House at Craftsman Farms,” Winterthur Portfolio 31:1 (Spring 1996), 28.

For more on Craftsman Farms, its architecture and history, see also Hewitt, Gustav Stickley’s Craftsman Farms and Cathers, ed., Gustav Stickley’s Craftsman Farms: A Pictorial History.

[64] For a complete study of Stickley’s house designs published in The Craftsman between 1904 and 1916, see Ray Stubblebine, Stickley’s Craftsman Homes (Salt Lake City, UT: Gibbs Smith Publisher, 2006).

[65] In 1910, The Craftsman hit its peak with a circulation of 22,500. As David Cathers notes, although this figure was “well below the level of the era’s mass-circulation periodicals—Good Housekeeping, for instance, now had 300,000 subscribers—[…] its distribution was equivalent to other national magazines that allotted generous editorial space to Arts and Crafts topics. In 1910, to name the three journals that were perhaps closest in content to The Craftsman, International Studio had 12,000 readers, House Beautiful 25,000 readers, and House and Garden 34,000.” Cathers,Gustav Stickley, 171.

[66] Gustav Stickley, “An Outline of Furniture-Making in this Country: Showing the Place of Craftsman Furniture in the Evolution of an American Style,” in Craftsman Homes (Syracuse, NY: Craftsman, 1909), 156.

[67] By this point, so many companies were using the “Craftsman” name that the brand suffered. As Peter Betjemann pointed out: “The wide currency of Stickley's name in fact had much to do with the enterprise’s’ ultimate collapse, for Stickley's own brothers capitalized on their suddenly famous surname and streamlined production to undercut Gustav’s prices while copying his designs; the ‘Stickley’ Company currently flourishing is the actual remnant of the enterprise headed by Leopold and John George Stickley. Mass-market retailers like Sears Roebuck in turn knocked off versions of the Craftsman style even more cheaply than Stickley’s brothers. The final irony came in 1927, when Sears named a line of tools with the ‘Craftsman’ moniker it retains today.” Betjemann, Talking Shop, 145.

[68] Stickley, “The Craftsman Movement: Its Origins and Growth,” 18.

[69] For an example, see The Craftsman 28:3 (June 1915): 246.

[70] Howard E. Brown, secretary, The Craftsman, to the Secretary of the Clerk of the District Court, Boston, March 23, 1915, Gustav Stickley Business Papers, The Joseph Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera, Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum, Winterthur, DE. Thank you to Jeanne Solensky for her help with my research. 

The Stickley Family Collection, 1879-1978, at the Benson Ford Research Center, The Henry Ford, Accession #1624, contains business manuscripts primarily from the furniture company of Leopold and John George Stickley. However, a few manuscripts relate to Gustav and his business, and Series 1, Boxes 4 and 5, in particular, contain insurance summaries, appraisals, and receipts in connection with the last years of Gustav’s business, as well a clipping from a newspaper entitled “Creditors Force Gustav Stickley into Bankruptcy” from 1915 (the latter is in Series V, Box, 33, folder 6.) A special thanks to Kathy, and the staff at the Benson Ford, for their help with my research.

[71] The May 1916 issue of The Craftsman chronicles Stickley’s bankruptcy. In 1917, The Craftsman merged with the publication Art World.

[72] See Cathers, Gustav Stickley, 202.

[73] After his death, Stickley was largely forgotten until the publication of John Crosby Freeman’s The Forgotten Rebel: Gustav Stickley and His Craftsman Mission Furniture (Watkins Glen, NY: Century House, 1966), which reignited interest in Stickley and his work.

[74] For an analysis of Stickley’s views on socialism and capitalism, see Robert W. Winter, “The Arts and Crafts as a Social Movement,” Record of the Art Museum, Princeton University34; 2 (1975): 36-40.

[75]As David Cathers has written, his “private life remains obscure; whatever personal papers he may have left behind have vanished, and almost none of his correspondence can be found today.” Cathers, Gustav Stickley, 9.

[76] Stickley’s furniture is historically significant, and his pieces are some of the most sought after in the field today, commanding record prices, most notably (and notoriously) exemplified by the 1999 sale of Barbra Streisand’s Arts and Crafts collection at Christie’s. See “Streisand Spectacular at Christie’s,” Architectural Digest 56:10 (October 1999): 43, and also http://www.nytimes.com/1999/10/13/arts/arts-in-america-tug-of-war-on-furniture-up-for-sale-by-streisand.html, and http://www.cbsnews.com/news/streisand-auction-fetches-3m/

 

Cite this Entry

APA Style

"Gustav Stickley." (2018) In Immigrant Entrepreneurship, Retrieved May 25, 2018, from Immigrant Entrepreneurship: http://www.immigrantentrepreneurship.org/entry.php?rec=270

Chicago Style

Renn, Melissa. "Gustav Stickley." In Immigrant Entrepreneurship: German-American Business Biographies, 1720 to the Present, vol. 3, edited by Giles R. Hoyt. German Historical Institute. Last modified May 13, 2016. http://www.immigrantentrepreneurship.org/entry.php?rec=270

MLA Style

"Gustav Stickley," Immigrant Entrepreneurship, 2018, Immigrant Entrepreneurship. 25 May 2018 <http://www.immigrantentrepreneurship.org/entry.php?rec=270>

Gustav Stickley, 1910

  • Gustav Stickley, Adjustable-back Chair, designed 1901, made ca. 1905
  • Gustav Stickley, Trademark and Motto “Als Ik Kan,” 1901
  • Gustav Stickley, Library Table, ca. 1906
  • Gustav Stickley, Scheme for a Fireplace, 1904

See more images »

TOP