Last Saturday during my presentation at the Cincinnati Woodworking Club I made the point that seeing authentic examples of period furniture was far better than seeing pictures in a book or online, and that seeing the furniture in context was even better yet. I suggested a two-part journey to see original pieces by Stickley, Roycroft, Byrdcliffe and other makers of the Arts & Crafts period of the early 20th century. After the meeting one of the members asked if I had further information (perhaps on this website) about where to go. I replied that I should and wondered why I hadn’t done that yet.
All four of these places are highly recommended to those who want a better understanding of this furniture and the folks who made it. Each is a worthy destination and if you find yourself traveling east from Buffalo, New York or north from New York city consider making a stop along the way. None of them are far from interstate highways and all of them are in historic settings that will open your eyes to life in the early 1900s.
The Roycroft Inn is part of the Roycroft Campus, established by Elbert Hubbard east of Buffalo. We stopped and spent the night on our way to teach at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Maine about 10 years ago. The inn was built in 1905 and was restored in 1995. It’s a good sized hotel featuring period rooms and good restaurants and an overnight stay will give you plenty of time to examine the furniture. At each end of the building is a lobby filled with original pieces of furniture. The best part is the fact that this is a hotel, not a museum. Guests are welcome to sit on the furniture, take a close look and take as many pictures as you like.
The Roycroft furniture operation was never as large as the factories of Gustav Stickley (and his younger brother Leopold) but it made a significant contribution to the period. There are some unique pieces in the inn, including the double-wide Morris chair seen in the photo at right. Also in the photo is an L. & J.G. Stickley “Prairie Settle”. In this same room is a nice conference table and many more pieces that were made across the street or down the road near Syracuse. As amazing as the furniture is, the entire room is significant. The architectural details, light fixtures, murals, rugs and carved mottos on the doors all serve to take you back in time. At the other end of the building is an even bigger lobby, filled with even more furniture. As you walk through the building more pieces of furniture can be found.
There aren’t many places where you can sit in an original Gus Stickley Morris chair and have a conversation with someone sitting in another Morris chair, with a period table in between. Of course the lamp on the table is also from the period as is the fireplace to the right. Overhead Dard Hunter lights are suspended from the exposed beams. The picture to the right is of a little nook in the room where we stayed, the perfect place to write a “wish you were here/glad we’re not stuck at home” letter.
When it comes time to leave you can grab a doughnut and get to the New York State Thruway if you’re in a hurry. But you’re better off with a leisurely breakfast at the inn (on the veranda if the weather is nice) and a drive across upstate New York on Route 20. It’s pretty country, the birthplace of the women’s suffrage movement and somewhere around the top of the Finger Lakes soft drinks change from “pop” to “soda”. In a few hours you will arrive at
Syracuse, New York is where Gustav Stickley laid the cornerstone of the American Arts & Crafts movement. His factory was located in Eastwood, a suburb on the east side of town. A few miles away is Fayetteville where younger brother Leopold built his factory. The original L. & J.G. Stickley building still stands and most of it is now the Fayetteville Free Library. In the upper floor of the original structure is the museum, which opened in 2007. The current operation of L. & J.G. Stickley is a few miles south and east in Manlius, New York. You can read more about the building here. There is a strong connection between the current Audi/Stickley company and the museum and this is a place where history is written by the winners/survivors.
The collection is very nice and like most museums you can get close (but don’t touch) the furniture. When we were there they didn’t mind us taking pictures, but the lighting is on the dim side. The museum is not open every day, so be sure to check the website for current operating hours before you go.
When you are inside and up the stairs be prepared for many examples of original pieces that are not often seen, including examples of the early inlaid furniture most likely designed by Harvey Ellis during his brief tenure working for Gustav Stickley. When we were there one of my favorite pieces was a 913-nine drawer dresser. This is a later piece, held together with dowels that are now coming apart. The best part is one of the drawers is removed so you can see the inside of the opening, the arrangement of the drawer guide and the interesting construction of the drawer. You can find details about Gus Stickley’s drawer construction in this post.
One of the reasons I began researching and writing about Arts & Crafts period furniture was due to poor examples I saw in existing books and magazine articles. At that time, more than 20 years ago it was hard to get a close look of genuine examples. A few hours at this museum will give you a deep understanding of what original pieces look like as in these details at the top of this Stickley music cabinet in the photo to the left. You can find details of my reproduction here and my book Shop Drawings for Craftsman Furniture here.
That’s a lot to take in, but if you’re ambitious there are two more places worth seeing that are relatively close. If you want to avoid the Thruway, route 20 gets you east of Syracuse to Albany where you can pick up 9W to head south to Woodstock and
Byrdcliffe isn’t exactly a museum, but a visit to Woodstock, New York is an unforgettable experience if only to see businesses named “Surreal Estate” and “Transcend Dental”. This small village is mostly known for the music festival that was held down the road. It’s been a mecca for artists, writers and musicians since Ralph Radcliffe Whitehead established the Byrdcliffe Colony in 1903. The guild is the caretaker of the remaining buildings of Byrdcliffe just up the hill from the village along with original pieces of furniture, related art work and other objects. I’ll be the first to admit to an abnormal affection for Byrdcliffe furniture that began with an image from a book I came across in the 1980s. When I worked for Popular Woodworking magazine in the 2000s I built a reproduction of the Sassafras Linen Press that put me deeper down the rabbit hole.
A few readers suggested I teach a class on building that piece which reminded me of another Byrdcliffe piece, the Iris desk. After a bit of online research I discovered that the desk still exists in the care of the guild. The next thing I knew I was driving across Pennsylvania on my way to Woodstock. Here are a couple of posts about that adventure: Part 1 and Part 2.
That trip was not without consequences, one of which was my latest book Shop Drawings for Byrdcliffe Furniture and an online discussion about the colony and there furniture that was constructed there. Here is a link to a video of my online discussion. Most of the existing Byrdcliffe furniture is now in museums, but the guild has some notable pieces. Those pieces aren’t on regular public display but there are occasional tours of the White Pines residence where you can find a dining set and a tall case clock.
If you visit you should plan ahead and reach out to the guild to see when a White Pines Tour is available and what pieces you might be able to see. The main function of the guild is to support the work of current artists including gallery shows and an artists-in residence program held in several of the original buildings. The self-guided walking tour gives a good feel for what the original colony was all about but be aware that some of the buildings are private residences and others are studios of working artists. The guild is a wonderful group of folks, but we should all be respectful and not poke around where we haven’t been invited.
In 1905 Gustav Stickley moved his offices and showroom to New York City and beginning in 1908 he purchased land in suburban New Jersey for a grand project called Craftsman Farms. The initial plan was to establish a school, a working farm and a large residence for his family. The log structure seen in the photo at left was intended to be a club house for events to be held at the property. His plans for the property and details of various structures were frequent subjects for articles in The Craftsman magazine. In 1912 he invested heavily in the Craftsman Building in Manhattan which was home to his offices, the magazine, a showroom for his furniture, several floors devoted to showrooms for manufacturers of building products and a restaurant that featured produce from the farm. Unfortunately there was an economic downturn on the eve of World War I and the home he had planned was never built.
Stickley and his family moved into the log clubhouse at this time and after his forced bankruptcy in 1915 the property was sold in 1917. In 1989 the property was purchased by the township of Parsipanny-Troy Hills and is maintained in partnership with the museum. The log house has been restored back to its original appearance and efforts are underway to restore and conserve other structures on the property. An education center was recently completed but there was damage done to the log house annex and kitchen in 2020. Reconstruction is nearly complete and tours are by reservation only. Visit the website to make reservations before you visit.
The interior of the log house is a delight to see as it gives us a close look at the way Gustav Stickley applied his ideas about homes and their furnishings on a personal level. We get to see original pieces in their original locations and it’s easy to picture Gus in his favorite chair, reading in front of the fireplace, or to imagine yourself as a guest for dinner. Seeing furniture in person is a great experience, but seeing it in context is exponentially better, especially when the context is the home of the man who brought the ideals of the Arts & Crafts movement to the United States.
Most American art museums have a few nice pieces of Arts & Crafts period furniture in their collections and are also well worth your time. I am extremely grateful for the places listed in this article and for the good folks who are working everyday to ensure that access to places like this are available today and in the foreseeable future. When I was in school history was taught with a focus on wars with little mention of the times in between. The period between the Spanish American War and World War I saw a great leap forward not just in furniture design but in the way we consider the homes we live in and the effect of our surroundings on the quality of our lives.