Two Panels Entitled “Cray”, 1885. Designed by William Morris.
Last Monday, December 14th, members of our museum education staff
spent an afternoon at the Art Institute of Chicago visiting the
exhibit “Apostles of Beauty: Arts and Crafts from Britain to Chicago.”
We have been studying the Arts and Crafts Movement and its connection
to Hull-House reformers and programs for the past few months as a
group, so it was wonderful to visit the exhibit and see the objects
created by the ideas we have been discussing. For those of you not
familiar with the topic, the Arts and Crafts Movement began in
Victorian England by John Ruskin and William Morris in response to
industrialization. Ruskin and Morris glorified the handmade over the
machine-made, and felt that making objects by hand instilled dignity
and pride in the worker. Moreover, the movement stressed that
beautifully crafted objects, and beauty in general, provided a moral
uplift that could extend across social classes. These ideas made their
way to America, and people such as Frank Lloyd Wright, Ellen Gates
Starr, Jane Addams, and many others brought the philosophy into
Hull-House through lectures, art programs, and progressive reform. As
a group, we museum educators have been making connections between the
artistic, political, and philosophical underpinnings of the movement
and the work carried on at Hull-House.
As the exhibit at AIC traces the movement from England to America, we
were able to recognize some of the shifts in ideas and design in
relation to Hull-House, the space that provided a Chicago home for the
British movement. Hull-House was one of the places where the movement
was reformed (no pun intended!) to suit American needs and ideals, as
the Chicago Arts and Crafts Society was formed at Hull-House in 1897.
One of our favorite moments in the exhibit was when we stumbled upon
two books handmade by Ellen Gates Starr. It was wonderful to see her
beautiful, handcrafted objects and think about the work that went on
during the bookbindery classes she taught at Hull-House. We were also
proud to see Hull-House mentioned all over the exhibition walls, and
to more fully understand our local connection to the international
movement. Our visit to the museum was a great experience and we
educators will most certainly be mentioning more Arts and Crafts
connections in our tours!
After the holidays, we will be looking more closely at the Hull-House
Labor Museum and its relationship with the Arts and Crafts Movement.
Want to catch up on what we’ve been studying? Here is a brief
bibliography of some great resources on the topic:
Addams, Jane. First Report of the Labor Museum at Hull House, Chicago,
1901-1902. (Chicago, 1902): 1-16.
Boris, Eileen. Art and Labor: Ruskin, Morris and the Craftman Ideal in
America. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1986.
Jackson, Shannon. “Performance at Hull-House: Museum, Microfiche, and
Historiography.” In Exceptional Spaces: Essays in Performance and History, Della Pollock, ed. Chapel Hill: The
University of North Carolina Press, 1998.
Stankiewicz, Mary Ann. “Art at Hull House, 1889-1901: Jane Addams and
Ellen Gates Starr.” Woman’s Art Journal, Vol. 10,
No. 1 (Spring-Summer, 1989): 35-39.