The Craftsman and the Critic
Defining Usefulness and Beauty in Arts and Crafts-Era Boston
Explores the movement for design reform in turn-of-the-century Boston
When English craftsman, poet, and socialist William Morris advised consumers in the 1880s to “have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful,” he prompted a movement for design reform in Britain, Europe, and America. Championing Morris’s views, the Society of Arts and Crafts in Boston led the quest for “usefulness and beauty” in the United States. As the oldest arts and crafts organization in the country, it exerted considerable influence.
Among the Boston reformers were design critics, whose profession became increasingly important in the nineteenth century. Many of them—including a number of prominent women—were also architects, designers, craft workers, educators, and theorists. Their views on design reform were substantive and often controversial.
This richly illustrated book explores the interaction of craft workers and critics as they collaborated to improve the quality of the living and working environment in Boston and across the United States. Beverly K. Brandt examines multiple overlapping topics—the evolution of the profession of design criticism in the nineteenth century; Boston in the “Gilded Age” as a center for reform, epitomized by the Aesthetic and the Arts and Crafts movements; the formative years of the Society of Arts and Crafts (1897–1917); key personalities associated with that organization; the theoretical underpinnings of the Arts and Crafts movement; and a diaspora of Boston reformers who left the city to promote usefulness and beauty across the country and abroad. In an epilogue, she discusses the Arts and Crafts revival which has flourished since the 1970s and contemplates why the search for usefulness and beauty continues to resonate today.
"A welcome addition to the literature of the movement, as it reminds us forcefully that the Arts and Crafts movement promoted not a style, but an attitude. . . . The book will...attract readers interested not only in Boston's cultural history but also in the broader narrative of design reform in the nineteenth century. . . . Brandt, having gathered an impressive array of materials, has helped pin down an elusive subject. Readers of The Craftsman and the Critic will be able to return to this valuable resource repeatedly."—
, New England Quarterly
"Brandt offers a welcome contribution to the literature that provides and in-depth sociocultural examination of the Arts and Crafts Movement in Boston.. . . (She) brings to light in detail the close ties between England and Boston that gave the Boston movement its distinctive aura among American centers. . . . Recommended."—Choice
"This long-awaited study investigates the interrelationships between design critics and the craftspeople belonging to the Society of Arts and Crafts in the turn-of-the-century Boston. . . . This outstanding analysis and understandable presentation provides a sophisticated appreciation of the Arts and Crafts movement."—Style 1900 Magazine