One of the signature features of the Arts & Crafts Movement—no matter where in the world it occurred—was the "revival and employment" of important cultural references from the local past: aesthetic elements, literary or folkloric references, historic milestones, or other relics of that specific culture's past. In England, the Arts & Crafts Movement sometimes incorporated Medieval Literary themes: knights in armor, heraldry, "Olde English" phrases. Scandinavian countries would utilize Viking ships, shields and other elements. And the Scots & Irish would freely apply Celtic design motifs—crosses, knots, thistles or shamrocks—into their Arts & Crafts designs. When designers "touched-back" to the culture's past, they were seeking to imbue their works with the patina of time—back to the culture's fundamental origins, back to simpler, more honest days. It was a way of looking-back, using a vocabulary that the community would recognize and understand.
In America, Arts & Crafts designers would sometimes incorporate Native American design elements into their works. American Indians—despite the way they were being treated—were viewed as the Ancient Americans, the true founders of the New World land and culture. While their culture was, at times, romanticized by Western artists—which occasionally portrayed them as "noble savages"—many Americans had a true appreciation for Native American design, customs and handcraft. And Western designers did not hesitate to "lift" those aesthetic elements to infuse into their own works a timeless reference to the local past.
Some people criticize what they see as "cultural appropriation." Done crassly—or worse, insultingly—this is a bad thing. But sensitive and beautiful interpretations of earlier work can create a wonderful (and new) conception. And, after all, very little of art and design is truly new; humans have been inspired by the work of other humans from the beginning of time—copying or adapting the ideas of the artists who came before them. "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery."
The large, two-handled vase, shown above, was made by Roseville in Ohio. It is from the pottery's "Monticello" line, made around 1931. The classic shape is reminiscent of Navajo pottery. And the hand-painted medallions and glazing has a strong Southwestern American aesthetic. Click on the photo above to learn more about it.
Though our Greenwich Village store is now permanently closed, LEO Design is still alive and well! Please visit our on-line store where we continue to sell Handsome Gifts (www.LEOdesignNYC.com).
We also can be found in Pittsburgh's historic "Strip District" at Mahla & Co. Antiques (www.mahlaantiques.com) or in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania at The Antique Center of Strabane (www.antiquecenterofstrabane.com).
Or call to arrange to visit our Pittsburgh showroom (by private appointment only). 917-446-4248