Utility, Simplicity, Beauty: Gustav Stickley's Green Folding Screen
The scale, condition and color of this unique screen distinguish it as among the rarest and most significant early works of Gustav Stickley's United Crafts. This four-part screen has a rigorous geometric structure that conveys confidence and modernity, but the warmth of its inset leather panels and hominess of its green stain and gently chamfered oak boards emphasize its domestic use. This object was singled out by David Cathers in Gustav Stickley (Phaidon 2003) for its exceptionally intact colored finish: "this ca. 1902 oak and leather room divider is a rare surviving example of the color effects Stickley achieved with his favored, but fugitive, green stains." (page 42)
Noting the influence of M.H. Baillie Scott on United Crafts designer Lamont Warner and other designers of Stickley's "tinted wood" furniture in 1901 and 1902, Cathers called attention to Stickley's "plain, soundly constructed furniture." (page 44) "In language that was to be echoed in Craftsman publications, [Scott] enumerated his furniture's virtues: simplicity; good proportions; the unobtrusive brown or green stains that added color to the oak or ash used in its construction." (page 45)
Room dividers played a central role in Stickley's furniture throughout his production, but were especially important to his efforts to revolutionize American home interiors during 1901 and 1902. Folding screens were featured prominently among Stickley's offerings as early as 1901 in "Chips from the Workshops of the United Crafts." Stickley featured at least two room dividers at the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo in the same year. When Stickley set forth his artistic ideals in the form of a model dining room in early 1903, he included a similar tall folding screen.
Screens were also prominently featured in early issues of Stickley's Craftsman magazine. The first illustration in its second issue (November 1901) showed furnishings "from the dining room of Mr. Gustave Stickley," including a smaller version of the Folding Screen offered here, similar in its simple rectilinear design and inset panels. The opening line drawing of the December 1901 issue presented a related model, and a "four-fold screen" took center stage in the January 1902 issue, with a full-page image preceding the text for the volume. Another screen was featured as a room divider in "The Living Room," a drawing by architect Henry Wilhelm Wilkinson in the Craftsman in February 1902. A "Screen in fumed oak" with chamfered boards in the lower register and inset leather panels above was featured in the May 1902 issue.
Originally from an Adirondack-style great camp in Colorado, this screen epitomizes Stickley's bold effort to achieve a national design style. As Stickley's design theorist Irene Sargent argued throughout her seminal A Revival of Old Arts and Crafts Applied to Wood and Leather (1901), "simplicity must be the guiding force in design," and in Stickley's early furniture "emphasis was given to durability, as well as the authenticity of their materials and integrity of their finish, a 'pleasing gray-brown effect, which in some lights gives out fine notes of green.'" (Gustav Stickley and the American Arts and Crafts Movement, Yale University Press, September 2010, p. 53) This folding screen is a dramatic and satisfying presentation of Stickley and Sargent's tenets of utility, simplicity and beauty.
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