Harvey Ellis in “The Craftsman” Magazine

ELLIS_2When the “Great Book of Shop Drawings for Craftsman Furniture” was published, I hoped to include all of the material from the three books that were originally published individually, “Shop Drawings for Craftsman Furniture”, “More Shop Drawings for Craftsman Furniture” and “Shop Drawings for Craftsman Inlays & Hardware”. The last of those books contains a lot of information about Harvey Ellis, who was employed by Gustav Stickley in 1903. Published information about Ellis is difficult to find and the chapters about his life and his work with Stickley are included in the new compilation as are full-size drawings of the Stickley Inlays attributed to Harvey Ellis.

What didn’t make it was the following list, works published in Stickley’s The Craftsman magazine that were either signed by Ellis, attributed to him by the magazine or other contemporaries and a few articles and artwork that I am pretty sure were his work.

The Craftsman is available online, thanks to the University of Wisconsin and the following list contains links to the referenced issues. If your a fan of, or curious about the work of Harvey Ellis there is no better resource than his articles in his own words and the illustrations from his pen.

Harvey Ellis in The Craftsman

July 1903, Volume IV, Number 4

Ellis’ first appearance in The Craftsman was in the July 1903 issue. Credited on the cover for A Craftsman House and An Adirondack Camp. From the introduction:

“The illustrations and text of A Craftsman House Design, and An Adirondack Camp, are from the pen and pencil of an artist and writer new to the pages of our magazine: one whose practical qualities, originality, and artistic accent can not fall to make him warmly welcomed in our present issue, and eagerly awaited in the future.”

A Man’s Dressing Cabinet
Article is not signed, presented as do-it-yourself project, later published in the book Making Authentic Craftsman Furniture. It features elements typical of Ellis: wide overhanging top, feet at bottom of legs.
A Craftsman House Design by Harvey Ellis

“At the outset, let us abandon precedent as much as may be, and try, if possible, to think of no house as ever having been designed before. This, of course, brings us back to first principles: What is a house for and how may its various functions best be accommodated to the all-important consideration—the price?”

An Adirondack Camp by Harvey Ellis
Descriptions of both houses written in a distinctive style—a design problem is given, and Ellis’ solution is presented as the only logical choice. As much attention is given to color as to other elements of the design.

A Child’s Bedroom
No byline for Ellis, but illustrations have his signature, H & E, enclosed in circle. Illustrations contain motifs similar to those on the inlaid furniture on curtains, rugs, and walls. Written in style that appears to be Ellis.

August 1903, Volume IV, Number 5

An Urban House
House Design and Article by Ellis.
Puss and Boots—An Old Myth in New Dress
Article and illustrations of bedroom murals by Ellis.
Some Craftsman Designs for Door Draperies
No Attribution, sketches look like the work of Ellis—Bragdon shows and credits Ellis with designs in Architectural Review article.

September 1903, Volume IV, Number 6

A Summer Chapel.
Noted on Magazine cover & mentioned in Foreword as by Ellis.
In The Children’s World.
No attribution in magazine, extensive illustrations of furniture, apparently done by Ellis, text in the style of Ellis.

October 1903, Volume V, Number 1

A Simple Dining Room.
No attribution to article, text seems to be by Ellis, illustrations typical of Ellis furniture, no signatures.

DR_0703“The movable furnishings, according to the William Morris principle, admit no piece which does not literally earn its living: that is, render some actual service to the frequenters of the room. The decorative value of each of the few pieces is thus preserved, and free space made to become the ally of art. Other important advantages gained by this simplicity and spareness, are the comfort of the guests and the convenience of the servant, who, if crowded among buffets, china-cabinets, chairs, and tables, requires the dexterity of gypsy in the egg-dance to avoid breakage and disaster. Care has also been taken properly to adjust the movable furnishings to the size of the room: as apparent space may be rapidly diminished by the introduction of pieces too large and too massive.
With this effect to be avoided, the buffet has been so constructed as to present no solid front of wood; the plate-rack has been separated from its old companion, the dresser, and is found suspended by a metal chain from the walls; the china cabinet by the wide concave curve of its base, adds to the general appearance of lightness, as do also the chairs with their open backs and their rush seats.

Nursery Wall Coverings in Indian Designs
No attribution, text and illustrations appear to be by Ellis. Credit given to Ellis in Bragdon’s Architectural Review article of 1908. Several of Ellis’ articles present themes based on fairy tales or ancient myths.

November 1903, Volume V, Number 2

A Note on Color by Harvey Ellis
House illustrations and article
Hardwood Floors
Article and illustrations—illustrations credit “Harvey Ellis design”
What May Be Done With an Ordinary Room
No attribution, illustrations and article seem to be by Ellis.

“The furniture of the room, which consists of a bookcase, settle, three chairs and a table, is finished in fumed oak, which harmonizes most admirably with the rest of the woodwork. The screens of Craftsman canvas, and the lamp of brass are also productions of the Craftsman Shops. The result, while produced with extreme economy, is most satisfactory and is recommended to the careful attention and study of the readers of this magazine as an example of what may be done in a rather commonplace room by the exercise of trained judgment and a practical knowledge of the relationship between fabrics, furniture and fixtures.”

Craftsman Canvas Portieres
Photographs and descriptions of two embroidered door covers, designs possibly by Ellis, identified as “products of the Craftsman Workshops.”

December 1903, Volume V, Number 3

Sermons in Sun-Dried Bricks From the Old Spanish Missions. By Harvey Ellis
Writing about the Spanish Missions of the southwest:

“With the sun-dried bricks, the aid of peon labor and the absolute fulfillment of the requirements, they produced buildings that for positive frankness of expression of purpose, have never been equaled in the history of the building crafts. The exact adaptation of these works to the climatic conditions and the functions involved make them classics equally with the Parthenon and its Roman successor, the Pantheon. This statement, while seeming a trifle audacious and in conflict with accepted traditions, is thought to be, nevertheless, susceptible of demonstration. It is deemed by every writer on the subject of architecture, from Vitruvius to Fergusson, that the art, as an art, consists primarily in accommodating the requirements: and in addition to this, in the discreet and tasteful disposition of the structural materials. Having this in mind, the dignity of these compositions, the majestic simplicity and the breadth of simple wall surface should be a source of inspiration to the designer of monumental structures.”

How to Build a Bungalow
House drawings and article, no byline, illustrations and most of the text done by Ellis.

AngelThe Bungalow’s Furniture
“If, after having been built with great respect for harmony and appropriateness, the bungalow should be filled with the usual collection of badly designed and inadequate furniture; the ensemble would be distressing, and the thought involved in the structure of the building thrown away. The term furniture implies, per se, movable portions of the building, and, as such, should be conceived by the designer.”
“This furniture, while adapted with much precision to its various functions, is of almost primitive directness. It is done in oak with a pale olive Craftsman finish, and thus becomes an integral part of the bungalow.  Whatever hardware is used in connection with this furniture is of wrought-iron, in the “Russian finish,” which falls into place very readily in the general scheme.”

The ABC of Decorative Art
Unsigned article, but the use of Japanese prints as examples, comparison of the arrangement of space to musical chords, and the style of writing point to authorship by Ellis, as does the accompanying sketch:

“Decoration in its simplest and therefore its best and most extended sense is the placing, by means of handicraft upon an object or surface, of something which shall enhance its value and make that particular place or object more interesting to live with. Decoration reduced to its simplest element is, aside from the color, nothing more or less than an arrangement of spaces, which like the notes in a musical chord, are related each to the other and not only complement, but supplement each other.
A false quantity in a decoration is, or should be, as unpleasant as an improper use of counterpoint in the sister art to which it bears so much resemblance. In spite of the time honored aphorism that “genius knows no laws,” the basic principles of decorative art are, within certain well defined limits, as accurately determined as the law for the resolution of an equation of the second degree. Even with a limited knowledge of the operations of nature, one readily determines that absolute symmetry is almost as much abhorred as the vacuum; and it might also be said that Nature was the inventor of the diminished seventh, and that she charms invariably by the quality of the unexpected.”
“If it is particularly desired to heighten the severity of the composition, each line thereof becomes intensely rigid by the introduction of some one curved form for an accent. We now come to the condition where the line which divides these simple shapes from absolute decoration is hardly perceptible. With the triangle, the horizontal line, the circle and the addition of a small amount of detail, which in many instances explains too much, it is possible to construct a landscape or figure composition of the first rank.”
“. . . indeed it is doubted if another Occidental has ever appreciated the possibilities of line, space and note as did the altogether too short-lived Aubrey Beardsley, whose every composition from first to last abounds in food for reflection. Equally true is it that these principles apply to all forms of domestic art as well as to the surface decoration of walls; and as a matter of fact, the modern craftsman seems to have a very much better comprehension of them than the man who bears dubiously the title of “an artist.” With regret be it said that in only too many instances the soiled worker in metal, the designer of fabrics, the joiner of furniture, and their kindred craftsmen, are more nearly in sympathy with the great masters than are the men who pompously display their mediocrity upon the walls of our public buildings.”

January 1904, Volume V, Number 4

Cover illustration possibly by Ellis
Craftsman House
Rendering of House, elevations and plan appear to be by Ellis, yet interior renderings, while showing some Ellis type furniture and motifs appear to be by someone else’s hand. Portions of the text could have been written by Ellis, but overall style is somewhat different.

Decoration and Ornament in the Craftsman Workshops

This article introduced the inlaid furniture that Harvey Ellis almost certainly had a hand in designing. Portions of the text may have been Ellis’ descriptions of the inlays.

March 1904, Volume V, Number 6

Canvas Curtains with Linen Appliqué
Photos of appliqué curtains, designs in the style of Ellis, but no attribution made in magazine.

June 1904, Volume VI, Number 3

Flower Motifs for Curtains and Pillows
Photos of appliqués, no attribution, likely to be Ellis designs.

Harvey Ellis died on January 2, 1904

My book of measured drawings of original pieces of Craftsman furniture, the “Great Book of Shop Drawings for Craftsman Furniture” is available directly from me. All copies sold from this site are signed and shipped promptly.

–Bob Lang

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