Elbert Hubbard’s Little Journeys

If you haven’t already seen it, take a moment to visit Stephanie Pina’s Lizzie Siddal blog to read Little Journeys to the Homes of Great Lovers: Rossetti and Siddal. Stephanie found a 14 volume set of Elbert Hubbard’s Little Journeys at a local bookshop and she’s taken the time to transcribe and scan Hubbard’s rendition of the story of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Elizabeth Siddal. I had a wonderful time reading it – it’s a charming and entertaining version of the story. I found Hubbard’s non-judgmental approach to Rossetti quite refreshing (you could say he tries a little too hard to make excuses for him, but I think Rossetti has enough critics). The story can also be found in Volume 13 of Hubbard’s Little Journeys, which is available on Project Gutenberg (along with a number of his other writings).

Those of you who are familiar with the Arts and Crafts movement in the United States will recognize Elbert Hubbard as one of the founders of the Roycrofters and the Roycroft Press. (His magazine, The Philistine, which was published by the Roycroft Press, is nearly as well known as the The Germ). Hubbard was heavily influenced by William Morris’ philosophy of the Arts and Crafts movement, and the Roycroft community in East Aurora, New York, was probably the most ardent attempt to see Morris’ socialist vision put into practice in the real world. His art colony may not have survived, but his writings remain available to readers as a window into his world.

“Useful and Beautiful” Conference at the University of Delaware Announced

The University of Delaware has announced a conference entitled “Useful and Beautiful: The Transatlantic Arts of William Morris and the Pre-Raphaelites.” The conference will run between October 7-9 at the University of Delaware, the Delaware Art Museum, and the Winterthur Museum. This sounds like such an exciting conference. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to attend, but I hope that some readers will go and report back!

The conference, which has been organized together with the William Morris Society in the United States, will take feature rare books and manuscripts from the University’s holdings, as well as fine and decorative arts from the Delaware Art Museum. The keynote speaker for the conference will be Fred Kaplan, Professor Emeritus of English at Queens College and the Graduate Centre of the City University of New York. His address will be held Thursday, October 7, at 4:30 p.m. in the Reserve Room of the Morris Library. Dr. Kaplan has written a number of biographies,including The Singular Mark Twain; Gore Vidal; Henry James: The Imagination of Genius; Charles Dickens; Thomas Carlyle(finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize); and, most recently,Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer. His lecture, entitled “Useful and Beautiful: Henry James and Mark Twain,” is sponsored by the University of Delaware Library Associates and associated with the exhibition, London Bound: American Writers in Britain, 1870–1916, at the University of Delaware Library.

In addition to the keynote address, there will be numerous sessions by internationally recognized scholars and specialists in Pre-Raphaelite Art, and a special performance of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest by the University of Delaware’s critically acclaimed Resident Ensemble Players/Professional Theatre Training Program.

For more information, contact Mark Samuels Lasner, Senior Research Fellow, University of Delaware Library by email at: [email protected], (302) 831-3250; or visit them on the web www.udel.edu/conferences/uandb

The conference is priced at $150 per person, and $75 for students. There is no charge for University of Delaware faculty, students and staff.

Utopia Matters: from Brotherhoods to Bauhaus

From May 1 – July 25, 2010, the Guggenheim museum in Venice will be presenting “Utopia Matters: From Brotherhoods to Bauhaus.” The exhibit is headed by Vivien Greene, who curates the 19th and early 20th century Art at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.

Utopia Matters will examine “the evolution of utopian ideas in modern Western artistic thought and practice” and features over 70 works of art drawn from the decorative arts, design, photography, paintings and sculpture.  A broad spectrum of historical Utopian art movements will be examined, including the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Primitivism, the German Nazarenes, William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement, Neo-Impressionism, De Stijl, Bauhaus and Constructivism. The exhibit will end with works from the 1930s, when the Bauhaus was closed. 

If you haven’t noticed (the title of this blog is pretty much a dead giveaway), I’m quite the fan of Utopian artistic movements, so this is one exhibit I would dearly love to see. I’ve always been fascinated by the intersection of art and idealism, and there are countless fascinating historical examples of artistic groups and individuals who have sought to improve life through art. 

Utopia Matters was first seen from January 22-April 11, 2010 at the Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin, so if you were lucky enough to attend that exhibit, be sure to leave a comment and let us know what you thought! I’m afraid a trip to Venice before July probably isn’t in the cards for me, but I would love to hear what others have to say about their visits. 

Image is Piet Mondrian’s Composition 10, courtesy Wikimedia. 

Christopher Dresser: Industrial Design Pioneer

Considered by some to be the first industrial designer, Christopher Dresser (1834-1904) was a contemporary of William Morris and is best known for popularizing Japanese minimalism in the West. A designer who had also been trained as a botanist, Dresser was drawn to the simplicity and natural inspiration of Japanese design. Like Morris, Dresser was dissatisfied with the excessive ornamentation used in Victorian design. However, when it came to applying technology to design, Dresser and Morris parted ways.  
As you may recall, Morris was highly suspect of any sort of technology that removed production from the hands of the craftsman. While Morris’ low-tech approach can be considered more romantic by some, it is interesting to note that Morris himself struggled with the necessarily high price of his designs. It was not until companies like Liberty began mass producing Morris’ work that it became affordable to the general public.  Dresser, on the other, saw that technology would play a crucial role in design. His dedication to industrial production methods made his work more accessible and affordable.

A quick review of Dresser’s design portfolio reveals numerous products that were far ahead of their time. Many appear strikingly modern, and it is difficult to believe that designs like this watering can (pictured above) were produced 134 years ago! 

In addition to his brilliant industrial design work, Dresser was an early champion of the notion of neutral backgrounds in interior design. After his tour of Japan, Dresser became convinced that walls and flooring should be done in neutral tones, and that bright splashes of colour should be reserved for accessories and accent pieces (Rompilla, 52).

A true innovator, Dresser’s designs still seem fresh and new today. His design mantras, like “maximum effect with minimum means” continue to inspire contemporary industrial designers. Today, one of Dresser’s philosophies–that design should address current needs with cutting-edge technologies–is more relevant than ever.  It’s surprising, then, that (unlike Morris) Dresser is not particularly well known outside of design circles. Nevertheless, his work is worth revisiting, and I hope that museums will take note! It would be wonderful to see an exhibit of his designs. Please contact me if you know of one in the works!

Photo courtesy http://designmuseum.org/design/christopher-dresser/. Please visit their website for more information, and for many more photographs of Dresser’s work.

See also: Ethel Rompilla, Color for Interior Design (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2005).

Ring House Nagano, Japan

I ran across the Ring House, designed by Takei-Nabeshima-Architects (TNA) the other day, and was enchanted. This blog tends to focus on the history of the Arts and Crafts movement, but I’m always on the lookout for modern design that reflects the principles of beauty, simplicity and utility that the Arts and Crafts movement celebrated.

Just looking at this lovely home is relaxing! Created from rings of glass and wood, the Ring House was completed in 2006 and has a 360-degree view of the forest. Because of the rings of windows, you are able to look directly through the house from every side to the woods beyond.

In his writings, William Morris continuously emphasised the importance of creating new architecture that celebrated the best of the simple medieval aesthetic, while discouraging historical reproductions (faux gothic and the like). In the past, I’ve struggled with this particular aspect of Morris’ writing. After all, we’ve all seen pretty terrible examples of contemporary architecture. I’ve often asked myself, why not just reproduce things from the past that were beautiful and useful? I’m slowly coming around to a different point of view, however. In my view, the Ring House is an example of how we can live in and celebrate contemporary architecture while respecting the best of design traditions.

For more information, please visit the TNA website. Photo by Daici Ano courtesy www.worldarchitecturenews.com