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Rose Mary
By Rosemary McKittrick
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Drop-front Harvey Ellis inlaid designed desk; circa 1903; red decal; sold for $42,000. Photo courtesy of Dave Rago.
Gustav Stickley learned the nuts and bolts of furniture making in his uncle’s Pennsylvania chair factory.

He traveled to Europe in 1898 and came back inspired by England’s Arts and Craft designers. The focus there was on handmade rather than machine made furniture. The human hand reigned supreme in their vision of crafting furniture. The fussiness of Victorian furniture was missing.

Most of the Victorian furniture Stickley encountered was big and clunky with fancy machine made curves and carving. Arts and Crafts furniture was simple and practical with geometric lines that blended with the wood. For Stickley it was a marriage of love not convenience.

The over-the-top excess of Victorian furniture was stripped away. What remained was clean, sharp lines. No frills.

"I felt that badly constructed over-ornate, meaningless furniture...was not only bad in itself," said the designer, "but that its presence in the homes of people was an influence that led directly away from the sound qualities which make an honest man and a good citizen."

With an Arts and Crafts vision in mind Stickley returned to the United States and opened Gustav Stickley Co. in Eastwood, N.Y. With the new company Stickley stepped to the forefront as the American voice for the Arts and Craft movement.

Stickley called his new digs the Craftsman Building. Besides furniture workshops, the building housed a metalwork studio and publishing office.

In October 1901 Stickley published “The Craftsman” periodical which was the marketing tool for his handcrafted furniture and architectural ideas.

"It seemed to me that we were getting to be thoughtless, extravagant people, fond of show and careless of real value," said Stickley, "and that one way to counteract this national tendency was to bring about, if possible, a different standard of what was desirable in our homes."

Stickley’s furniture was mostly heavy quarter-sawn oak. The mortise-and-tenon joints, dovetails and chamfered boards were hallmarks of its construction. The upholstery was natural, sometimes rush or leather. The wood was richly varnished but never painted.

Easy on the eye, clean and simple design was the hallmark of Stickley’s American Arts and Crafts furniture. Mission was the word often used to describe it. The style caught on at the turn-of-the-century and homes were furnished in Mission or Victorian furniture. Sometimes both.

Extraordinary craftsmanship and finishing techniques added elegance to Stickley’s designs. Everything from drop-front desks, oak sideboards and armchairs to chandeliers lamp tables and rockers echoed his design philosophy.

In 1903 architect, designer and craftsman Harvey Ellis accepted Stickley’s invitation to write for “The Craftsman” magazine. The two men worked together for only seven months. But, in that time Ellis introduced small, inlaid motifs that dressed up Stickley’s furniture. A good fit.

Nowadays, collectors prize these decorative Arts and Crafts details and Ellis designed pieces are highly collectible. On Sept. 27 & 28, Rago Arts and Auction Center featured a Craftsman sale in Lambertville, N.J. A drop-front Harvey Ellis inlaid designed desk; circa 1903; signed with a red decal; sold for $42,000.

Here are current values for other Gustav Stickley lots sold in the auction.

Gustav Stickley

Dining Chairs; 8; v-back; no. 354 ½ ; six side chairs; two captain’s chairs; some are marked; 36 by 18 ½ by 16 ¾ inches; $3,900.

Magazine Stand; no. 514; chamfered sides and v apron; circa 1901; unsigned; 44 by 15 ½ by 15 inches; $4,200.

Magazine Cabinet; paneled and tapered sides; molded-edge shelves; unsigned; 39 by 15 ½ by 13 ½ inches; $9,000.

Bookcase; double-door; early red decal; circa 1901; 45 by 39 by 12 inches; $12,000.

Wardrobe; paneled doors and sides; ten drawers and pull-out mirror; paper label; 60 by 39 ½ by 24 inches; $14,400.

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