Arts & Crafts or Art Nouveau ?

English Arts & Crafts Hammered Brass Tray with Whiplash Handle (LEO Design)

There are no small number of (tedious?) “aficionados” who would gladly spend the day debating whether an item is Arts & Crafts, Secessionist, Jugendstil or Art Nouveau.  I say—at the risk of heresy!—they are all the same.

The “Greater Art Nouveau” movement blossomed at roughly the same time in various, mostly Western countries.  In each place, the movement was seen as new, handcraft-oriented, and a return to simpler, more-honest sensibilities.  In most cases, the movement was perceived—at least initially—as a response to industrialization and a colder, faster-moving world.

Furthermore, each of these “schools” relied on similar design inspirations:  nature-based elements (like plants, animals or landscapes), a reliance on the component materials to contribute the decorative flourish (be it shiny copper, or beautifully-grained wood) or the revival of ancient symbolism from that country’s earlier days (like Celtic, Gothic, or Native American motifs).

For twenty years I’ve been traveling the world, collecting turn-of-the-century items for my shop.  The more I look, the more I see the “links” which connect Prairie Mission to Viennese Secessionist, Scottish Arts & Crafts to Belgian Art Nouveau.  I think of the different movements as sisters, born in different countries, but sharing the same parents and DNA. Each sister may speak with a different vocabulary—and accent—but they are often saying the same thing.