The subtitle for this exhibition, “An Expression of Modern Life,” piqued my curiosity from the moment it came across my desk. I knew the exhibition was to be an in-depth investigation into a collection of rare United Crafts furniture recently gifted to the museum, but I didn’t know how this investigation would be revealing of modern life. Months later, the meaning of the subtitle became clear when I read curator Jonathan Clancy’s thought-provoking essay on the subject—which I recommend as a good “take-off point” for the entire exhibition. In this essay, I was particularly struck by Clancy’s use of a quote from Irene Sargent, which, for me, sparked a more visceral understanding of the subject. With her inimitable prose, Sargent, who was the first editor of Stickley’s Craftsman magazine, provided the following unforgettable assessment:
“Modern life is restless, pulsating and fretful, like the streaming rays of the aurora borealis.”
Though Sargent’s vivid description, as colorful and strange as it is apt, was penned in 1902 for The Craftsman magazine, it can also be said to capture this present moment in 2020. As this exhibition has taken shape—shifting from featuring an online component to entirely virtual—Covid-19 has simultaneously wreaked havoc worldwide, upending and complicating even the most commonplace of daily activities. In its wake, modern life has felt as restless, otherworldly, and unsettled as Sargent’s description.
Reading Clancy’s essay and coming to understand how Stickley’s enterprises “spoke” to his moment in the early 20th century and speaks to this moment in 2020, renewed my appreciation for the ability of art, including the applied arts, to capture an era and express what at the time may seem inexpressible.
As this museum’s Executive Director, I am proud to present this timely, multi-faceted online exhibition. As planned Things Wrought by The United Crafts: An Expression of Modern Life is an in-depth investigation into a rare collection of Stickley furniture, but it is much more. It is a reexamination of Stickley’s enterprises as a modern endeavor. It is an exploration of Stickley’s production practices, his workforce, promotional efforts, and target market.
It is also the brainchild of curator Jonathan Clancy, the museum’s Director of Collections and Preservation, who conceived and executed each component with insight and skill. A recent addition to our staff, he has, in a brief time, sharply elevated the museum’s reputation as a resource for rigorous scholarship.
Things Wrought would not be possible without the generosity of Gregg and Monique Seibert, who carefully protected this collection for many years before making the decision to entrust it to the museum in 2018. We are grateful.
Exhibitions like this are made possible only with the assistance of many people and organizations. To that end, the museum wishes to thank: Robert Kaplan, Dave Rudd, Winterthur Library, Arts & Crafts Collector, and the Curatorial Committee led by co-chairs Barbara Fuldner and Pete Mars. Thank you to the museum’s Board of Trustees for steady leadership during this time of upheaval. Thank you to the museum’s volunteers, for their passion and dedication, and thank you to the museum’s staff for their resourcefulness and steadfast sense of purpose.
We thank the museum’s nationwide community of members, who inspire all that we do, for their unwavering and enthusiastic support.
Finally, my personal thanks to Irene Sargent for her matchless, “mic-dropping” description of modern life. I am, as ever, awed by her determined prose and prescience.
Vonda K. Givens, Executive Director
May 30, 2020
Craftsman Farms, the former home of noted designer Gustav Stickley, is owned by the Township of Parsippany-Troy Hills and is operated by The Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms, Inc., (“SMCF”) (formerly known as The Craftsman Farms Foundation, Inc.). SMCF is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization incorporated in the State of New Jersey. Restoration of the National Historic Landmark, Craftsman Farms, is made possible, in part, by a Save America’s Treasures Grant administered by the National Parks Service, Department of the Interior, and by support from Morris County Preservation Trust, The New Jersey Historic Trust, and individual members. SMCF received an operating grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission. SMCF gratefully acknowledges a grantfrom the New Jersey Cultural Trust. Educational programs are funded, in part, by grants from the Arts & Crafts Research Fund.