Long before the term got co-opted by summer camp sessions filled with friendship bracelets and Popsicle stick boxes, Arts and Crafts represented a major movement in the history of design. It’s influential enough, in fact, to be chronicled, along with the Gothic Revival and Modernism periods, in one of six mini-movies produced for the Open University, which documents the important style movements of the 20th century.
The pint-sized history of the Arts and Crafts movement takes us back in time by 150 years, when “people had become totally fed up with machines,” says a narrating Ewan McGregor. “People had gone nuts for technology. Manufacturers could make loads of stuff for loads of people without thinking too much about the final product.”
So “the people” began to yearn for goods made with craftsmanship. The protagonist of the era is William Morris, a writer and textile artist, who believed the advances in machinery diminished our creativity. But Morris was no Luddite or nostalgic. He believed we must master the machine–so it could enhance our craftsmanship. He championed the era of English Arts and Crafts and advocated for visible artisanship such as hammer marks on metal or exposed bolts and hardware on furniture legs.
If this all sounds familiar, it is. We recently experienced a renewed interest in how things are made, and support artists and craftspeople on Kickstarter and Etsy. And proof of our desire to connect with and support the people behind our purchases is online–in the form of user reviews and Yelp.
It’s an old trope that history repeats itself. More than 100 years ago, the rise of industrialization kindled the rise of the Arts and Crafts movement. Today, the rise of cloned Ikeas and Bed Bath & Beyonds paved the way for our commitment to small-batch artisan pickles or hand-knitted items (to the point of parody). But given that over that time, industrialization has moved on from the steam engine into the contemporary boom in 3-D printing (even 4-D printing), the question posed at the end–“Have you mastered your machines?”–remains timeless.