The Creative Spark: Rethinking Decoration in the Arts and Crafts Movement

 3 Session Online Course  |  $25/session | Location: Zoom Online Classroom

Saturdays, September 12, 19, & 26, 2020

The live sessions of this series haved passed. Register retroactively to receive a private link to the recording of the live session when it is available to view online.


Vase, George E. Ohr (American, 1857–1918) 1900, Made in Biloxi, Mississippi, American, Earthenware, Dimensions:11 7/16 x 6 3/8 in. (29.1 x 16.2 cm), Gift of Robert A. Ellison Jr., 2017

Session 1: Saturday, September 12 | 1 – 2 PM EDT

George Ohr: Ceramic history, craft pottery, and the avant-garde in America


George Edgar Ohr was a powerful potter; even more than a hundred years after his death he is still in control of the narrative of his life. He was–and remains–”the mad potter of Biloxi,” the “apostle of individuality,” “the greatest art potter on earth,” a sophisticate and rube, the man of a thousand nicknames. This sessions looks at Ohr as all of those things but acknowledges his deep engagement with contemporary and historical ceramics, reevaluates his relationship to craft potters of the period, and sheds new light on his rambling travelogue “Some Facts in the History of a Unique Personality,” which was published in 1901.

Photo: Vase, Earthenware, George E. Ohr, 1900, Gift of Robert A. Ellison Jr., 2017,  The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Roycroft Shops, American Beauty Vase, c. 1912, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian

Session 2: Saturday, September 19 | 1 – 2 PM EDT

The Anvil Chorus: Facts and Fictions of the Roycroft Metal Shop


As unlikely as it seems, the Roycroft Community was amongst the movement’s longest-surviving shops, producing metalwork for nearly four decades. To put this in perspective, that is longer than Robert Riddle Jarvie, Gustav Stickley, and Karl Kipp’s Tookay Shop combined. From the problematic nature of the “early, middle, late” system of marks, to what we know and don’t know about the maker’s marks, this class is a blend of connoisseurship, history, and critical thinking. We will cover the history of the shop from inception through the 1930s, the finishes developed by the shop, and the numbering systems assigned throughout the endeavor’s long duration.

Photo: American Beauty Vase, ca. 1912; Manufactured by Roycroft Shops (United States); USA; copper; H: 56.51 cm (22 1/4 in); Museum purchase from General Acquisitions Endowment; 1984-104-1, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

Frank l. Koralewsky, American, Metalware, Art Institute of Chicago

Session 3: Saturday, September 26  | 1 – 2pm EDT

“Tortured by Exaggerated Lines”: The Decorative Impulse and the Arts and Crafts 


In the opening issue of The Craftsman, Stickley informed readers: “We are no longer tortured by exaggerated lines the reasons for which are past divining. We have not to deal with falsifying veneers, or with disfiguring so-called ornament. We are, first of all, met by plain shapes which not only declare, but emphasize their purpose.” But perhaps he spoke too soon–or only for himself. Despite protestations to the contrary, many in the Arts and Crafts movement reveled in tortured and exaggerated lines, disfiguring ornament, and ornament in many mediums. From the heavily carved furniture of Karl von Rydingsvärd and Charles Rohlfs, to the iron work of Frank Koralewsky, to the painted work of Arthur and Lucia Matthews, the movement was not only the restrained and staid vision that Stickley often promoted in the Craftsman, but included diverse and enthusiastically contradictory set of practitioners who celebrated the decorative impulse.

Photo: Lock, Iron with inlays of gold, silver, bronze, and copper on wood base, Inscriptions: “Fkoralewsky” on iron surface; “FK” inlaid in copper, Dimensions: 50.8 × 50.8 × 20.3 cm (20 × 20 × 8 in.), Frank L. Koralewsky, 1911, American, Art Institute of Chicago

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