Arts and Crafts, meh…

Cherry blossoms obscuring the chimney of the Thorsen house, an Arts and Crafts "ultimate bungalow's" created by the architects Charles Sumner Greene and Henry Mather Greene

Arts and crafts, do you really want to know how I feel about the Arts and crafts movement? Honestly I feel guilty about my inherent distaste for the forms that the Arts and crafts movement takes. It feels to me like a hodge-podge of influences. So many influences that none of them are fully realized.
I appreciate the ideals behind the arts and crafts movement, among them “”the conviction that a building must respond to its surroundings.” (pg. 259, America:The Quest for Democratic Design)  A bringing of the outside in, and cohesion of the outside with the inside through the use of materials and motif’s particular to the local landscape.

One example of this integration in the Thorsen ultimate bungalow is the wisteria growing outside on built in trellises, that  wisteria is also depicted in a stained glass window beside the front door. I see the visual correlation but the actual stained glass has a clunky and messy feel. The built in planters for the wisteria to grow in were also ill-conceived, inviting the plants to damage the structure of the house. The tile work in the dining room, I was told, represents vinca minor. Vinca minor is a ground cover especially suited to our temperate Climate, this tile work is meant to mimic the vinca minor growing outside. however, I do not see a distinct visual correlation between the forms of these two plants. I suppose you could see a general circle shape transposed onto either flower. One of the most basic distinguishing features of a flower is its number of petals. Vinca minor has five petals, these petals always overlap with one side of each petal over and one side of each petal under. This makes vinca minor seem somewhat like a pin wheel, it has visual motion. The flower depicted in the tile work has only four petals. The four petalled flower is very stable and static. Numbers are highly charged in symbolism. I feel that either the tile work is being misinterpreted or the Arts and Crafts movement once again disappoints me with its interpretation of a beautiful ideal.

I see Japanese influence throughout the Thorsen house, it is in the cloud and cherry blossom motifs as well as the connection to the natural world outside and constant reiteration of the tsuba. I see the forms but I do not see the meaning. I think the American Arts and Crafts movement misses  the subtleties of Japanese design . It appropriates the forms but does not tend to the deeper meaning and symbolism behind those forms.

The movement aspired to democratic design. A design attainable to anyone spurred on by a growing middle class that had time for do-it-yourself projects. This ideal of democratic design was more fully realized in the United States than it was in Britain. The British were committed to hand craft. From this labor intensive hand craft beautiful objects were made, but were only attainable by the very rich. The U.S Americans did not have a long standing history with industrialization as Britain did. This allowed them to adopt industrial methods to produce their Arts and Crafts good. Through the use of industrial processes these design objects were made available to a wide audience.

Wisteria image in stained glass at the Thorsen ultimate bungalow

Tile work supposedly depicting vinca minor. Notice that this flower only has five petals while to real vinca has five, curious.

Vinca minor growing outside of the Thorsen house. Do you see this as being the plant depicted in the dining room tile work?

Green and Greene, the Architect's of the Thorsen house.


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