Last edited 23 Jun 2021

Arts and craft movement

The Arts and Craft Movement developed in Britain in the 19th Century and spread across America and Europe before it reached Japan where it emerged as the Mingei (Folk Movement). It led to the reformation of art at all levels across a wide social spectrum.

Its basis lies in simple forms, truth to materials and the consideration of nature as a source for patterns. The main characteristics of the Arts and Craft Movement are:

  • Truth to materials: A focus on the natural qualities of the materials to make the objects.
  • Simple forms: Design often focused on the actual construction of the object.
  • Natural motifs: Patterns were often inspired by nature.
  • The vernacular: Domestic traditions and the vernacular provided inspiration.

During the 1860s and 1870s, architects, designers and artists started to consider innovative approaches to design and the arts which led to the formation of the Arts and Crafts Movement.

Two key figures in the movement were the theorist and critic John Ruskin and the designer, writer and activist William Morris. Ruskin focused on the relationship between art, labour and society and Morris put Ruskin’s theories into practice, placing a high value on work, the pleasure derived from high-quality craftsmanship and the natural beauty of materials.

By the 1880s Morris was internationally-renowned as a commercially-successful designer and manufacturer. His ideas were taken on board by new guilds and societies, who for the first time presented a unified approach among painters, architects, sculptors and designers. This in turn took the Arts and Crafts ideals to the public.

The term 'Arts & Crafts' was first used at the suggestion of the bookbinder T J Cobden-Sanderson for its offshoot, the Arts & Crafts Exhibition Society which was set up in 1888.

Early designs were often highly decorated but quite plain, however most work showed a concern for, and understanding of craftsmanship with stunning bright colours, rich patterns and textures. Central to the Arts and Crafts Movement were ideas about art, work and society which meant that the arts of the book, including calligraphy, typography, and book binding were highly valued.

A key role in the development of the movement was played by art schools and technical colleges in London, Glasgow, and Birmingham.

For the first time women took a leading role in a major art movement as designers, makers and consumers. Both the home and women's role brought a fresh approach to architecture and interior decoration.

Arts and Craft style homes are typically made up of elements with traditional proportions. The pitched roof span is no greater than 4.5m to 6m with pitches of 47.5-55°. Eaves are low, often reaching down to first floor level in many parts, often with a catslide roof on at least one elevation.

Typically an important part of a building is the large chimney which is often tall and wide with ornately decorated stacks with traditional brickwork or stonework. The windows often consist of multiple, small panes set in hung casements which are usually timber or metal. The windows are usually centrally located in each bay. Doors are typically plank style, either painted or softwood with black hand forged ironmongery.

The Red House in Bexleyheath was designed between 1858-1860 by Philip Webb. Webb was inspired by British vernacular architecture, in particular its well-proportioned solid forms, steep roof, pointed window arches, brick fireplaces and wooden fittings. The Red House is characteristic of the early Arts and Crafts style.

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