Before becoming an international phenomenon, the Arts and Crafts movement began with the ideas of British artisan William Morris (1834-1896) and writer John Ruskin (1819-1900). Morris and Ruskin believed that the growth of cities isolated urban workers and that mass production negatively affected artisan crafts. They proposed to solve these issues by returning to a medieval-inspired village model where everybody participated in a community lifestyle. In the United States, artisans adapted these ideas into the studio art pottery movement. Unlike their British counterparts, who often focused predominantly on social issues and therefore made objects that incorporated Gothic and Renaissance motifs, American craftsmen developed a cohesive and novel aesthetic.
An overarching interest in healthful living and art therapy sprung up as a response to the detrimental conditions in urban factories and slums; this interest was especially evident during the first two decades of the twentieth century. Arts and Crafts publications like Gustav Stickley’s The Craftsman placed particular emphasis on establishments that combined artistic innovation with social responsibility. In a 1905 Craftsman article titled “Where Women Work and Rest,” author Mary H. Northend described the working conditions at Marblehead Pottery thus:
… dainty vases, candlesticks, odd shaped pitchers, ink stands, and innumerable trifles of bric-a-brac spring up as if by magic from the deft fingers of chattering girls and women, intent upon their creations yet finding time for a gay jest or story… The lack of jarring sounds, all noisy branches of handicraft being excluded, gives a grateful sense of restfulness which is in keeping with the whole atmosphere of the place.
Even the simplified decoration of Marblehead Pottery attests to the atmosphere of its creation. The delicate matte gray glaze and incised geese, for example, give this vessel a muted, refined air. Although not purely geometric in nature like many of its counterparts produced in the Marblehead kilns, this vase maintains a simplicity of form and decoration that alludes to the influence of the Japanese aesthetic in turn-of-the-century art pottery. Even the limited palette references East Asian ink wash paintings, which were popular in both Europe and the United States during the last quarter of the nineteenth century.
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