GUSTAV STICKLY: AMERICAN CRAFTSMAN – Review by Martha K Baker

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Gustav Stickley: American Craftsman, an excellent biography of the leader of the Arts and Crafts movement, offers a chance to further educate home-owners as to Stickley’s success, fall, and resurrection — from furniture maker to architect to entrepreneur.

From his father’s farm in Wisconsin to his uncle’s furniture factory in Pennsylvania, Stickley, born in 1858, began to emerge. In 1883, he formed a furniture company with a couple of brothers (there were 11 siblings); when that endeavor dissolved, Stickley formed descendent companies until the 1890s when he began to create the first of his Arts and Crafts efforts. He marketed his designs in quartersawn white oak to the middle class.

In 1901, he published the first edition of The Craftsman magazine, an engine for marketing and educating that became, also, a record of his designs. He believed in simplicity and brought visible honesty to production. His company motto translates loosely as “to the best of my ability.”

He died barely recognized in his field, but Herb Stratford’s brief biodoc makes clear that Stickley has not remained unknown. Stratford’s directing and writing highlight Stickley’s legacy from innovator to icon as founder of a truly American style. His furniture, now worth fortunes, remains unadorned but colored just enough to highlight the wood’s grain and the mortise and tenon joinery. Before going bankrupt, Stickley’s workshops produced not just furniture but also leather and textiles.

Gustav Stickley: American Craftsman is a basic documentary — nothing flashy but ultimately informative. The film furthers the basic education of anyone enamored by Arts and Crafts designs.

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Martha K. Baker

I first taught film at Lakeland College in Wisconsin in 1969 and became a professional film reviewer in 1976 in St. Louis, Mo. Through the years, I have reviewed films for the St. Louis Business Journal, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Episcopal Life, and KWMU (NPR), among other outlets. I've reviewed at KDHX radio, my current outlet, for nearly 20 years.