Gustav Stickley (1858 – 1942) American furniture designer

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Armchair, 1907 - 1913 designed by Gustav Stickley
Armchair, 1907 – 1913 designed by Gustav Stickley

Driving force behind Mission Furniture

Gustav Stickley (1858 – 1942) was an American craftsman, furniture designer, manufacturer. He was born in the Wisconsin town of Osceola. Albert, Charles, John George, and Leopold Stickley were his brothers.

Training

As a stonemason, he learned from his father.

Biography

His German name, Stoeckel, was anglicised to Stickley by his émigré parents. In Pennsylvania, he worked in his uncle’s chair manufacturing with his brothers. Stickley brothers Gustav, Charles, Albert, Leopold, and John George all worked in the furniture industry.

Craftsman Farms Gustav Stickley organized a sustainable community here in the early 20th century;
Craftsman Farms Gustav Stickley organized a sustainable community here in the early 20th century;

Separate companies were formed overtime to produce what became known as Craftsman or Mission furniture. Stickley Brothers, the first firm, was founded in Binghamton, New York, in the 1880s by Charles, Albert, and Gustav Stickley. Initially, they marketed popular furniture, and later, pieces that they developed and manufactured.

Gustav Stickley Designed Electric Chair

Gustav Stickley found himself in competition with his brothers. In 1890, his Craftsman oak electric chair was put at the New York State prison in Auburn for state corporal punishment. He had the most significant single influence on the American Arts and Crafts movement through the journal The Craftsman and his furniture manufacture in the early twentieth century. The periodical, which began in 1901, documented Stickley’s ideology by recording his own home in Syracuse, New York, in 1902, and his Craftsman Farms project in Morris Plains, New Jersey, beginning in 1908.

Gustav Stickley Craftsman Farms Project

For Stickley’s United Crafts Workshop in Eastwood, New York, architect and designer Harvey Ellis designed the dwellings, furnishings, and wall decorations. The Craftsman Farms project was a utopian farm and school community developed in 1907 and first shown in 1908 as drawings and elevations for the Log House and cottages. The project was most likely completed in 1909. The farm and school were featured in five consecutive issues of The Craftsman from 1910 to 1912.

Armchair, 1907 designed by Gustav Stickley
Armchair, 1907 designed by Gustav Stickley

Stickley moved his family into the rebuilt Log House in 1910, bringing furniture from his previous Syracuse interior. From Los Angeles to Boston, he sold franchises and, in 1913, purchased a prominent building in New York City, where he set up showrooms, offices, and a restaurant. Craftsman Farms was short-lived, and his move to New York City proved overly ambitious, with his furniture enterprise bankrupting in 1915 and The Craftsman closing in 1916. The farm’s full potential was never reached. The 650-acre estate, together with all of its contents, was auctioned off in 1917. It was given to the public in 1989. The furnishings had been scattered. Stickley’s endeavour came to an end with the arrival of Modernism and a shift in popular taste, even though he played a crucial role in creating modern design. Though he shared the Arts and Crafts movement’s devotion to a solid structure, “truth in materials,” and high-quality artistry, his emphasis on simplicity and purity of form foreshadowed European Functionalism.

Exhibitions

He exhibited his art in the 1904 ‘Louisiana Purchase Exposition’ in St. Louis. Stickley frequently showed his furniture at international shows, alongside the ceramics of William Greuby’s designers, George P. Kendrick and later Addison LeBoutillier.

Sample of Works

Chest, 1903 designed by Gustav Stickley
Chest, 1903 designed by Gustav Stickley
Library Table, 1906 designed by Gustav Stickley
Library Table, 1906 designed by Gustav Stickley
Armchair, 1907 - 1913 designed by Gustav Stickley
Armchair, 1907 – 1913 designed by Gustav Stickley

Sources

Byars, M., & Riley, T. (2004). The design encyclopedia. Laurence King Publishing.

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