An American Look: Fashion, Decorative Arts & Gustave Stickley, on display at the Everson Museum of Art, focuses on drastic changes in decorative arts and fashion in the United States in the period just after 1900.
The exhibition argues fashion designers eventually matched the Arts and Crafts movement’s emphasis on functional, high-quality items.
Certainly, the show has no problem documenting either the rise of the Arts and Crafts movement or Syracuse’s status as a movement stronghold. Two influential figures, Gustave Stickley and Adelaide Alsop Robineau, lived in our city for many years.
Stickley ran a factory in Eastwood that made metal objects, textiles and, most of all, furniture typically done in oak wood and soft, natural colors. In its heyday, the factory produced thousands of pieces of furniture in a year. In addition, Stickley and his staff created plans for Craftsman houses and shipped them to consumers across the United States.
Beyond that, he was a major advocate for Arts and Crafts aesthetics and cultural significance. From 1901 to 1916, he edited and published The Craftsman, a nationally distributed publication. It lobbied for designs based on simplicity, utility and beauty, printed illustrations of designs for Craftsman houses and reported on architecture and crafts trends in Europe.
The Everson show presents multiple Stickley pieces: a tall clock, a library table, a china closet, a lantern, even a fireplace hood. The last object was installed at the Yates Hotel, a downtown Syracuse landmark until its demolition in 1967.
Robineau, meanwhile, is widely regarded as one of the most important American ceramists of the 20th century. The Everson has more than 100 of her pieces in its collection, and the exhibit displays classic Robineau works including “Lantern,” “Viking Ship Vase” and “Scarab Vase: Apotheosis of the Toiler.” Like Stickley, she played multiple roles in the movement. In addition to creating her porcelains, she taught at Syracuse University, ran a summer school for budding artists and published Keramic Studio, a national magazine devoted to ceramics.
An American Look doesn’t suggest that she and Stickley were the only players in the movement. Indeed, the exhibit amply documents Arts and Crafts sites outside Central New York. Viewers can see a desk chair made by Roycrofts Shops, of East Aurora; covered jars from Rookwood Pottery, of Cincinnati, Ohio; and “Amphora Vase,” a beautiful piece created by Fulper Pottery, in Flemington, N.J.
In regard to fashion, the show positions 34 mannequins wearing day dresses, dance dresses, walking skirts, lingerie dresses and other outfits. The clothing is loose, functional, comfortable, designed for freedom of movement. Moreover, the shift to different fashion designs isn’t presented in isolation. The mannequins are integrated into the overall exhibit; they stand right next to furniture or pottery. That encourages comparison of the pieces and communicates a sense of Arts and Crafts and fashion designers sharing similar concerns.
Yet the show doesn’t mention the names of any fashion designers or point out their familiarity with the Arts and Crafts movement. In general, exhibitions don’t benefit from a lot of text.
Here, however, just a paragraph or two could have provided some useful information.
In the end, An American Look makes its major points fluidly and effectively, reminds us about Syracuse’s place in the Arts and Crafts movement and displays a slew of eye-catching artworks. It reflects successful collaboration of the museum; Jeffrey Mayer, curator of the Sue Ann Genet Costume Collection, at SU; and the university.
There will be two lectures covering topics related to the show. On Aug. 11, at 2 p.m., Sarah Laangan, director of the Stickley Museum, in Fayetteville, will discuss “The Stickley Brothers: A Lasting Legacy of American Design.” She will lecture as she leads a walking tour of the Everson exhibit. Gustav Stickley, it should be noted, had four brothers involved in ownership, co-ownership or management of furniture factories.
And on Monday, Aug. 5, 6:30 p.m., Samuel Gruber will talk about Gustav Stickley and the Arts & Crafts movement at Petit Branch Library, 105 Victoria Place.
An American Look is on display through Sept. 22 at the Everson Museum, 401 Harrison St. Admission is $10 for adults and $8 for college students, military personnel and seniors. The museum is open Tuesdays through Fridays and Sundays, noon to 5 p.m. and Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For information, call 474-6064.