Copper in the Arts

May 2009

The Arts and Crafts Society of Central New York

by David Lewinson

Arts and Crafts Movement Vessel

A rare copper Gustav Stickley jardinière

Photograph courtesy of Dalton's American Decorative Arts

The Arts and Crafts Movement was born in England during the late 1800s as both a visual and intellectual reaction against the onrush of "soulless" machine-based mass production of decorative forms brought on by the Industrial Revolution. Focused almost entirely on domestic architecture and furnishings for the home, its preference for unadorned natural materials and simple utilitarian design rejected the highly ornate tastes of the surrounding Victorian era while asserting that the contribution of the skilled human hand, the personal vision of the individual designer, and Nature itself should dominate the machine, not the other way around.

Today, more than a century later, the Arts and Crafts style and its ideals are as alive as ever. They underlie the architectural forms and nature-embracing ideas of Frank Lloyd Wright and form the foundation of the "Craftsman Style" that's currently enjoying a strong revival from coast to coast.

This history and its associated works provide the focus of the Arts and Crafts Society of Central New York (ACSCNY), located in Syracuse. From the late 1800s through the early 20th century that city was a major center of American decorative arts due to its proximity to the Erie Canal, its pool of skilled workers, and access to natural materials such as high quality wood.

Over a relatively short period of time, the city would be host to such well known Arts and Crafts manufacturers as Gustav Stickley's Craftsman Workshops, his brother Leopold Stickley's L.&J.G. Stickley Company, and Adelaide Robineau's Pottery. Also in Syracuse were the less recognized Onondaga Metal Shops and Benedict Art Studios.

While the majority of these shops' production centered on furniture constructed of wood, each produced a range of hand hammered and spun copper and brass products ranging from lamps and vases to kitchen, service ware and fireplace hardware. They also produced a variety of decorative forms for use as inlays and overlays on their firms' furniture production. In all cases, the work was produced either entirely by hand or with machine assistance at the start then finished by hand in the true spirit of the Arts and Crafts Movement.

Now in its 14th year of operation as a not-for-profit organization, the Arts and Crafts Society of Central New York has grown to 75 members and includes a number of architects, designers, academics, collectors and home owners, all of whom share a profound love for the style. The Society has no fixed location and possesses no permanent collection but instead supports a variety of projects and events, including tours, scholarly research, and public lectures focused on the Arts and Crafts Movement at venues throughout the region.

Dave Rudd is one of the Society's founding members as well as its current president. His involvement with the Arts and Crafts Movement began in earnest when he and his wife, Debbie Goldwein, were young newly-weds living in Syracuse in the mid-1970s and looking for furnishings for their home. At a swap meet, they came upon a couch that they both immediately fell in love with.

"We were powerfully attracted to the sincerity and honesty of the workmanship and the philosophy of the Arts and Crafts Movement which produced it," says Rudd. "We decided that we would do our entire house in that style. Everything just evolved from there."

That evolution led the Rudds from furnishing their home to starting a collection. As their collection grew, they became dealers and opened Dalton's, a gallery of American Decorative arts. The enthusiasm and depth of knowledge they displayed as collectors and dealers soon attracted the attention of other people in the region who shared their interests. From this ever expanding group of like-minded people, the idea and then the fact of the ACSCNY was formed.

The gallery now serves informally as the Society's headquarters and also as something of a museum of the Arts and Crafts Movement in the region. Its current inventory consists of over 3,000 objects and people are welcome to visit and enjoy the works on display.

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