Stratford Times - December 2021
Signs of Stickley and the Craftsman Movement in Stratford
The early 20th century was a fascinating time for innovations in building and architecture with movements that spread in what was a global society before World War I disturbed this notion. For some Canadians, it was a time of optimism where people – or a least the literature of certain echelons of society – expressed a strong faith in science, technology, and progress (a term that I believe to be quite elusive). In the period between 1900 and 1914, Canada matured into an industrial country. This was an occurrence that took place a few years after our southern neighbourhood and certainly not with the same magnitude but was nonetheless impressive.
Yet rapid industrialization disenchanted some. The Arts and Crafts movement, as well as the subsequent Craftsman movement which we explore pieces of here, formed in reaction to the monotony, mass-production, and, most crucially, the dislocation of the artisan.
The Arts and Crafts Movement
In this last month of 2021, I use this piece to pay homage to Gustav Stickley’s first edition of The Craftsman that was published in October 1901 and helped to spread Craftsman architecture and the Arts and Crafts movement throughout North America. Well-known to students and enthusiasts of the Craftsman movement, Gustav Stickley is hardly a household name. Though, to better understand Stratford’s Craftsman architect, it is worth briefly explaining the significance of this individual.
A stonemason’s son, Gustav Stickley was an American-born furniture maker who became a strong proponent of the Arts and Crafts movement that was pioneered by British poet, textile designer, and activist William Morris. Stickley, who crafted his own furniture, believed as Morris did that industrialization had made the artisan subservient to the machine.
Stickley looked to the Mediaeval times when the craftsman was “a self-respecting man, since he owned no superior but his art.” The factory system that emerged out of the 19th century was “a regime responsible for the lowest stage in the degeneration of the craftsman.”
When it came to building a home, Stickley remarked, “We marry usually whom we please, and live where we please, and work as we please – but when it comes to that most vital matter – building a home, individuality and independence seem to vanish.” Stickley believed in practical homes that nurtured relationships and bonding. Through design, this meant decompartmentalizing the home by opening the living room as a space equivalent to the “great hall” of ancient dwellings. In other words, an idealized space where people would read, study, and dance, and build memories. The fireplace was the heart of the living room and coziness was key. Woodwork, including wainscoting and panelling, was to be composed of oak, chestnut, cypress, ash or elm. Built-in furniture ensured that the design was practical and suited to the interior of the house.
It is at this point that we turn our attention to two particularly fine examples of Craftsman homes in Stratford, 71 Mornington and 151 Avon.
In 1921, Dr. Lorne Robertson had 71 Mornington constructed for his parents, Dr. and Mrs. J.A. Robertson. The senior doctor, who was known as a noble character, “became known as the Grand Trunk Railway, was president of the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons and served as the city’s health officer,” according to the Stratford-Perth branch of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario. Both doctors are known to have contact with renowned physician, Norman Bethune.
The house has prominent Craftsman features including a long roof; a gable and a shed dormer; overhanging, bracketed eaves; a cozy porch supported by brick piers, and a prominent chimney. With earthy tones from the stucco and brown brick envelope, as well as the long roof shape, this house enunciates the Craftman ideal of homeliness. The dormers are stylish and practical, allowing extra living space and light in the upper portion of the house. Lastly, the landscaping links the house to the environment.
151 Avon was constructed in 1926 but wasn’t occupied until 1928 when Cecil Charles Hodgins lived there with his wife Izetta. Hodgins was a World War I veteran who was born in Estevan, Saskatchewan. He worked as a clerk for Kroehler Manufacturing Co.
This house is also a fine example of the ideal Craftsman in the eyes of Stickley. The fieldstone foundation is picturesque and preferred according to Stickley. Stone is further applied for a chimney and piers and continues southward to form a wall that includes a porte-cochère. Like the roof itself, the dormers are hipped and have flared eaves, influences from Japanese architecture. Although likely not original, the windows are grouped and mimic the effect of multiple panes atop a single pane, another feature that was applied in the Craftsman style. The brick is an earthy brown and is wire-cut vertically, giving more texture and ruggedness to house. The warm tones place it cozily and naturally on this street corner.
Although deeply rooted in California through the architecture of brothers Henry Mather and Charles Sumner Greene, Craftsman architecture became immensely popular and, ironically, mass-produced throughout North American, in part, through Stickley’s publications. Styles were often imitated, which is evident in the similarities between 151 Avon Street and this “kit house” shown above that was published by the Sovereign Construction Company in 1916. If only the Craftsman spread a little bit more in Stratford. Nonetheless, let us recognize that our small Craftsman collection is “infinitely more of a beauty that is real and lasting because it is born out of use and taste.” Oh, and don’t be surprised to see a Part Two on Craftsman homes in the future.
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