Oscar Onken was inspired by Paul Horti’s avant-garde furniture designs at the Louisiana Purchase International Exposition and agreed to hire him to design furniture.
Oscar Onken (1858 – 1948) was an American entrepreneur. He was professionally active in Ohio. Onken was a prominent businessman and philanthropist. Impressed with the Gustav Stickley and Austrian stands at the 1904 St. Louis ‘Louisiana Purchase Exposition,’ he founded The Shop of the Crafts in Cincinnati in 1904.
He had been inspired by the Vienna Secessionist movement displays in the Austro-Hungarian exhibit at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis. He was so impressed with the exhibits that he hired Hungarian designer Paul Horti. There was a distinctly European air to the Shop’s furniture, with its inlays, applied carvings, and painted designs.
Horti’s inlay designs were a prominent design element, but so were the design features from other Arts and Crafts manufacturers and occasional touches of Art Nouveau and even Victorian influences. Decorative elements on the furniture included marquetry patterns, Limbert-style cut-outs, and Art Noveau-inspired stained and leaded glass panels.
Oak was the preferred timber, although occasionally mahogany was used. He most likely preferred oak as it is one of the most durable woods used to make furniture. Oak is a strong material that will last for years and years without getting weaker. Cheaper options might only last a few months. It is such a strong piece of wood that it can even resist most stains and scratches on the surface.
Metalware typically featured strap hinges, bevelled square brass knobs, and brass nails. The latter was heavily relied on to stud leather tops.
Arts and Craft furniture bear a gold paper label with the black lettering reading “Shop of the Crafters” above a simple lantern drawing, below which are the words “At Cincinnati Oscar Onken Co. Sole Owners”.
Arts and Crafts furniture production had ceased by 1920, though the Oscar Onken Company remained in business until 1931.
Bowman, L. G. (1990, November 1). American Arts and Crafts: Virtue in Design.
Congdon-Martin, D. (2001). Arts & Crafts: Designs for the Home. United States: Schiffer Pub..
Miller, J., Bace, J., & Rae, G. (2005). Arts & crafts. DK Pub.
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