‘Arts and Crafts Movement’ brings historic items to MAC
‘The Arts and Crafts Movement in the Pacific Northwest,” the new traveling exhibit at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture (MAC), should find an especially ardent fan base in Spokane.
Arts and Crafts is, after all, the artistic style that shaped Spokane in ways still visible all over the city.
Spokane neighborhoods are studded with Craftsman-style houses, based on Arts and Crafts concepts. These houses look especially handsome when decorated with the kinds of Arts and Crafts furniture and decorations on display in the exhibit.
And many of the city’s finest landmarks have strong Arts and Crafts influences, including the Campbell House and large portions of the Davenport Hotel (the Elizabethan Room being the best example).
This exhibit, which arrives fresh from its inaugural run at Seattle’s Museum of History and Industry, has Spokane roots. It was developed and curated by Lawrence Kreisman of Seattle and Glenn Mason, who was the executive director of the MAC from 1982 through 1999.
Much of Mason’s early research for the exhibit (and the accompanying book of the same title) was conducted here. The exhibit is studded with many Spokane examples of the Arts and Crafts style, along with items from Seattle, Portland and elsewhere.
What, exactly, is Arts and Crafts?
Essentially, it was the movement in the late 1800s and early 1900s that emphasized handmade craftsmanship, with an emphasis on simplicity and natural beauty. It originated in England and often hearkened back to a more rustic, medieval, craft-guild style.
“It was a reaction to industrial, Victorian mass-production,” said Marsha Rooney, the MAC’s senior curator of history.
“The industries were creating lots of stuff, and the railroads were transporting it everywhere, and there was the usual pendulum swing in which people were saying, ‘But this is a lot of crap.’ ”
Mason and Kreisman explain it this way in their exhibit: “Adherents to the Arts and Crafts movement … appreciated sound construction, pleasing proportion, grace and simplicity. (They) honored comfort, rusticity, beauty in nature and indigenous materials.
“In the Northwest, architects, artists and craft workers found further inspiration in the region’s environment, its abundant resources of timber and stone, and the traditional handiwork of its native peoples.”
The Arts and Crafts movement spawned, or at least influenced, many familiar styles, such as mission furniture, Tiffany glass, Craftsman-style homes, bungalow-style homes and Art Nouveau.
“Spokane was just hitting its stride right during the heart of the movement,” said Rooney. “We had the wood, the cobblestone, the basalt – all of them are a craftsperson’s dream.”
The Northwest also had a number of builders and architects – Kirtland Cutter being the most famous example – who were highly influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement, and who were busy building the region’s booming cities.
The MAC exhibit features graphic arts, paintings, furniture, lamps, vases, glass, pottery, book design and architecture.
Rooney has also added an auxiliary exhibit, connected to the main exhibit, called “Davenports and Decorative Art,” to show off the museum’s own excellent collection of Arts and Craft pieces.
Louis Davenport of Davenport Hotel fame was a collector of Arts and Craft decorative art and his son, Lewis Davenport Jr., later donated the family collection to the MAC.
Many of those pieces will be on display, and the rest of them – more than 100 – will be shown in a continuously running slide show.
In conjunction with this exhibit, the museum’s Campbell House tours will feature a special emphasis on the Art and Crafts décor of the Cutter-designed mansion.
That means visitors can experience the Arts and Crafts movement in its original, historic, household context.