Gustav Stickley and the Arts and Craft Movement

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending the Gustav Stickley and the Arts and Crafts Movement exhibition at Newark Museum in Newark, NJ.  The Gustav Stickley and the American Arts & Crafts Movement exhibition was organized by the Dallas Museum of Art and curated by Kevin W. Tucker, The Margot B. Perot Curator of Decorative Arts and Design.  It premiered at Newark Museum September 15, 2010. This exhibition was of particular interest to me because of my time spent working at a Frank Lloyd Wright residence and my prior knowledge of Arts and Crafts design principles.  Other than strictly FLlW exhibitions/residences, I have not seen a large scale Arts and Craft inspired exhibition and so was enthusiastic to see this one.

Let me begin by saying that this was my first time to Newark Museum and this is the ONLY exhibition I made it through due to my time constraints. Secondly, it is hard to conduct an evaluation strictly of the Newark Museum in this instance as I am unsure of the demands/restrictions placed on them by The Dallas Museum of Art.  I always expect exceptional quality from AAM accredited institutions and would be interested to see how the exhibition is handled in its upcoming venues in Dallas and San Diego.

I won’t belabor over every point and I certainly won’t break out the Serrell framework, but I was largely unimpressed by this exhibition.

It is RECOMMENDED to see, if for no other reason, because of the excellent selection of objects within the exhibition.  Many of these objects are previously unseen by the public as many belong to private collections and included metalworks, linens, furnishing and fixtures.  The objects selected for this exhibition represented a large array and time span of Gustav Stickley’s design.

Some of the things I thought were done well:

Choice of objects to display

Choice of how many objects to include a longer narrative text with

Color scheme (shades of green) it seemed fitting both of the movement and the time period

Merchandising selection was incredible with a nice variety of items

Some of the things that definitely needed improvement:

Text panel placement – My biggest criticism of this exhibition was the location of the text panels. Each exhibit section was blocked off by a partition-like bar approximately six inches from the ground. The majority of text panels were located on an angle affixed to these bars requiring most people, especially those with poorer eyesight or who were particularly tall, to bend over to read them.  With high ceilings

and lights in the space producing only dim lighting, visitors bending over to read the text cast a shadow over the panel making the reading conditions even worse.

General craftsmanship – I found the general lack of precision and tidiness in this exhibition disconcerting.  Many of the text panels, mounted to foam core, had rough edges from using dull

blades on their cutting machine, one could see trimming lines still visible or had paper shreds still hanging off the edges of the panels.

Must see objects in the exhibition:

My favorite objects in the exhibition were the room screens and library tables.  Arts and Craft furniture is so solid, natural and beautiful.  I wouldn’t mind having some except for a simple Gustav Stickley end table can fetch up to $176,500 at Sotheby’s.

This is only a very brief review of the exhibition and though this was an assignment for my Exhibition A to Z class many general visitors noted the same flaws.  The layout of the exhibition had people turning in circles and missing pieces of information etc.  After my internship in interpretation at The British Museum one of my favorite things to do is to sit and watch people interact, view or flow through an exhibition.  There is much to be learned in a very short period of time by visitors actually using the exhibition.

The Gustav Stickley residence, Craftsman Farms, is actually in Parsippany – Troy Hills, NJ.  This is very close to me so I plan on making a trip over there sooner than later. For more information about Stickley or Arts and Crafts furnishings visit:

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