I wasn’t born or raised in Cincinnati, but I feel a deep kinship with the city and its incredibly rich history with the decorative arts, including furniture.
The city was a hotbed of decorative carving in the 19th century, with a world-class school devoted to carving that was dominated by women. Furniture-wise, the city experienced an intense Asian-inspired burst of creativity in the 1880s that resulted in many furniture companies here producing Asian-inspired furniture that was sold all over North America. The Greene Brothers were born here. Rookwood Pottery was founded here — and is still here and making objects of intense beauty.
And we had the Shop of the Crafters.
Now, if you are a fan of Arts & Crafts furniture, you might have heard of this shop, which is now beneath a highway I drive on every morning on my way to work. The Shop of the Crafters was different than all the assorted Stickleys that populated New York.
The output of the Shop of the Crafters was unique because of its inlay, European influence and profound unevenness. In the Cincinnati Art Museum, there is a display of some of the shop’s work. On the left is a beautiful china cabinet that delights you the more you stare at it. On the right is a clock that looks like it was made with home center materials.
I have owned a Shop of the Crafters Morris chair since I was 23, and it is one of my most favorite tangible objects. I bought it from an antiques warehouse in South Carolina for $335. They had a big scarecrow sitting in it and the cushions were green leatherette covered in the ugliest flowers you’ve ever seen.
But I scrimped and saved for that chair (we qualified for Food Stamps at the time) and it is the first thing you’ll see when you walk into our house.
Today Lucy, Katy and I went to the Cincinnati Art Museum and I renewed my love affair with many of the decorative objects in their collection. If you come to Woodworking in America this fall, I hope you’ll take some time out to visit this absolute jewel box of a museum. Admission is free (thanks to the sweat and blood of me and my co-workers). But the wankers now charge for parking.
— Christopher Schwarz