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Arts & Crafts:
From William Morris to Frank Lloyd Wright

by Arnold Schwartzman

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Argyle Chair
Charles Rennie Macintosh

The Craftsmen of Rose Valley
by Bob Brooke

The Rose Valley community, located outside Media, Pennsylvania, was the vision of architect William Lightfoot Price, a Philadelphia free-thinking Quaker, inspired by the writings of William Morris and the principles of the Arts and Crafts Movement.

In 1901 he bought 80 acres of land and began to design and build a new community based on the utopian English village described by Morris in his book News from Nowhere. He planned for the inhabitants to make some of their income from crafts they produced. Residents made some of these while craftsmen, who rented workshops in the village, made others. Rose Valley was also home to a metal workshop, and book bindery, the Rose Valley Press, which printed its own magazine, The Artsman. Items made in the community, including the furniture and pottery by William Jervis, bore the Rose Valley seal, showing a rose with a superimposed "V" circled with a buckled belt to symbolize friendship.

Before he started work on Rose Valley, Price designed furniture for the houses he built. These pieces are identical to those he had made for his artists' community. Considered to be the most important legacy of the Rose Valley experiment, Price designed them in a high Gothic style, with elaborately hand-carved decoration. The furniture workshop operated from 1901 until 1906, during which time cabinetmakers produced 500 pieces.

Price didn’t advertise his furniture or publish a catalog and when potential customers, who had seen his designs at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exhibition, requested alterations, he refused them, saying the furniture was part of his Arts and Crafts vision and couldn’t be tailored to suit other homes. However, his furniture was expensive and when, in 1906, it proved too great a drain on his resources, Price closed the workshop.

Rose Valley Crafts
Rose Valley had three crafts workshops that operated under the guidance of the Rose Valley Association: Price & McLanahan’s Furniture Shop, William P. Jervis’ Pottery Shop, and Horace Trauble’s Rose Valley Press, printing The Artsman. Work done in these shops met the standards of the Rose Valley Association.

Although many artists and craftsmen were members of the Rose Valley Association, they didn’t necessarily make the handicrafts marked with the Rose Valley seal. The Association intended to rent space to non-resident artisans who they permitted to use the Rose Valley seal, the Association’s trademark. The firm of Price and McLanahan was the first to lease property from the association, converting the burned out textile mill on Ridley Creek into a furniture shop. As it turned out, the only non-residents were ceramist William Percival Jervis and most of the woodworkers.

The Furniture Shop
Arts and Crafts historians believe the furniture produced at Rose Valley to be the most important part of the Rose Valley experiment. Ironically, Price was having furniture custom made for use in the houses he designed before he founded Rose Valley. Those designs are indistinguishable from the ones used at the shop in the old mill.

Unlike the simple style of the furniture manufactured by Gustav Stickley and Elbert Hubbard, Price’s pieces featured a highly decorative Gothic style. Wealthy American homeowners had a taste for such dark, elaborately carved furniture that began in the 1870s and continued throughout the 1920’s. Like Rose Valley furniture, much of it was hand carved. How, then, could Rose Valley pieces be so closely associated with the ideals of the Arts and Crafts movement?

Rose Valley furniture had a heavy Gothic look with intricate hand carving and thick supports. It celebrated the cabinetmaker’s craft and showcased the skill of the woodcarver. The craftsmen in the furniture workshop gave special care to detailing even the smallest tables and chairs.

It was both useful and beautiful. But Price was also a good writer and his articles in The Artsman stated how he thought his products embodied the ideals of Arts and Crafts philosophy. Still, he ran into the same problem that had stumped Morris. Arts and Crafts philosophers made a big deal about the democratic and socialist nature of their utopian visions but, in practice, the production of objects meeting their standard of craftsmanship was an expensive and, therefore, an elitist reality. A mass-produced dining table from Gustav Stickley cost $66 in 1904, putting it well beyond the reach of most Americans; A grand, hand-carved Rose Valley table cost $150. Even so, the Rose Valley order book and the photographs of furniture in production suggest that Price’s furniture shop was very busy during the few years it operated.

Jervis’ Pottery
William Percival Jervis was a nationally known master potter. Before coming to work in Rose Valley, he managed the Avon Faience Company and worked at the Corona Pottery. He produced The Encyclopedia of Ceramics and wrote Rough Notes on Pottery, A Book of Pottery Marks and English Potters and American History.

He rented a studio in the Rose Valley guildhall where he created many highly praised pieces marked with the Rose Valley seal. The fanfare that greeted Jervis’ arrival at Rose Valley came at the height of the popularity of art pottery. The process of making artistic pots had become closely identified with the Arts and Crafts way of life, and Jervis announced that his pottery would be simple as befitted the simple life. Even though Jervis may have commuted to his studio from Philadelphia, the idyllic environment of the Valley suited his artistic sensibilities.

Jervis’ designed his pottery with simple lines and used green, brown, and blue glazes that reflected the colors found around the village. Indeed, some of his pottery designs incorporate the green fern fronds that he loved so much. Even Louis Comfort Tiffany said that the glazes he developed at Rose Valley were the finest he had ever seen.

Although Jervis produced hundreds of pieces while at Rose Valley, very few are known today. He claimed that the Rose Valley mark would be “impressed in the clay or printed in color.” on his pots. But, in fact, few of his pieces bear the mark of the Rose Valley seal. And while he may have printed labels in color, none seem to exist today. Other pieces have raised nubs arranged in a circle. Historians believe these represent the stamens of the Rose Valley rose. He inscribed other pieces with “W.P. Jervis” or a handmade version of the seal. Jervis left his pottery studio in Rose Valley in 1905.

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