Pasadena’s Gamble House has long been a landmark for admirers of Craftsman style. It popular lecture series and research partnership with the University of Southern California have made this a national phenomenon. Now there is a traveling exhibition dedicated to this topic that has made its way to Southern California for the summer.
The recently opened “Gustav Stickley and the American Arts and Crafts Movement” at the San Diego Museum of Art is bringing local area residents closer to a style that helped shape the Southern California lifestyle in the early Twentieth Century.
The furniture and decorative art crafted by the Gustav Stickley studios illustrates the design team’s goal of making art available to America’s middle class through effective use of modern machinery. This began with adaptation of Arts & Crafts designs inspired by Pasadena architects and interior designers Greene& Greene that earned the distinction of “Millionaire’s Row.” Stickley used many of the same elements — dark wood stains, stylized floral motifs, and panes of beveled glass — and made them easy to transport. This made them much easier to buy, as well, and much sought after to complete the comfort of the many Craftsman style kit homes built in areas such as Mission Hills and North Park in San Diego.
Daily living with the beauty of Arts & Crafts at home cultivated similar artistic tastes. This comes to life at this exhibition with appealing displays of area landscapes in earth tones that accent Craftsman classics. Work’s by San Diego artist Maurice Braun show the natural beauty that attracted so many residents to the area originally.
Visitors will have a special opportunity to view this style in its natural environment. The San Diego Museum of Art has organized a tour “Craftsman in San Diego: Mission Hills.” It will take place Saturday, August 13. There will also be four walking tours of classic Craftsman homes and gardens organized by the Gamble House in Pasadena. July 16, September 17, October 15, and December 10. Reservations are a MUST.
While the anchors of the Stickley exhibition, the Newark Museum of Art, the Dallas Museum of Art and San Diego Museum of Art have provided valuable energy and leadership to presenting the artistic side of Stickley design, they have also raised a question about the role of art museums that few experts are prepared to answer yet. Historically, decorative art has been displayed in design museums, like the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt National Museum of Design. Showing Stickley furniture as a showcase for Arts & Crafts style, including original paintings does make including these works in art museum exhibitions a intriguing idea. But ninety-percent of the fine art owned by the San Diego Museum of Art is rarely or never displayed because of space constraints. That raises the question of whether Marston House, Gamble House and other attractions dedicated to the decorative arts might not be better suited to exhibiting these works in the future.