Lesson 17 Table of Contents

L e s s o n 18


1. Key personalities

John Henry Belter (1804-1863). German-born furniture maker who immigrated to America in 1844 and settled in New York. The term "Belter furniture" is often used to refer to any American furniture of the type that he introduced. His furniture features

bentwood (often rosewood) which is elaborately carved and pierced. Belter furniture is characterized by a lightness of style.

Daniel Pabst (1826-1910). Leading cabinetmaker in Philadelphia, where there were a large number of German cabinetmakers in the 19th century. Pabst's furniture tends to be massive and lacks the airy quality of Belter furniture.

Charles Rohlfs (1853-1936). Born in New York, he designed panels for cast iron stoves and did not turn to furniture design until around 1890. He was a leading figure in the American Arts and Crafts Movement and a friend of Elbert Hubbard, founder of the Roycroft colony at East Aurora, NY.

Gustave Stickley (1859-1942). Innovative furniture designer and manufacturer, the most important promoter of the Mission Style. Stickley was born in Wisconsin to a farm family whose name was originally Stoeckl. In 1884 he established a furniture manufacturing firm in Binghamton, NY.

2. Main trends

German immigrant craftsmen who settled in Pennsylvania after 1683 brought with them styles of peasant folk art from southwest Germany. The furniture produced by these folk craftsmen is usually painted and decorated with design motifs such as the tulip and Distelfink which can be found in other types of Pennsylvania German folk art. Certain types of cabinetwork, such as the bride's painted dowery chest, are particularly characteristic of Pennsylvania folk furniture.

By contrast, the furniture produced at Salem, NC by craftsmen belonging to the Moravian Brethren has a refinement of taste which elevates it into the sphere of art furniture. During the second half of the 19th century large numbers of German cabinetmakers came to America to escape the restrictions imposed upon them by the European guild system. One result of this was the concentration of large numbers of skilled German immigrant cabinetmakers in such American cities as Philadelphia, New York, and Cincinnati.

Immigrant craftsmen brought the German Biedermeier style of the cultural epoch between 1815 and 1848 to America. A local style of Biedermeier cabinet-making can be found in the areas settled by Germans in eastern Texas.

The Arts and Crafts Movement was an important phase in American furniture design roughly between 1900 and 1925. The roots of the movement are to be found in England and can be traced to the influence of the English designer and writer William Morris (1834-1896). Nonetheless, some of the American designers who played a part in the movement were of German extraction, notably Charles Rohlfs and Gustave Stickley. The Arts and Crafts Movement in the U.S. and Britain was also paralleled by similar developments in Germany and Austria. The Vienna workshops (Wiener Werkstätte) pioneered a new style of design, including furniture design.

3. Suggested further reading

David Hanks. "Daniel Pabst, Philadelphia Cabinetmaker," Arts and Antiques, vol. 3, no. 1 (Jan.-Feb. 1980), 94-101.

Coy L. Ludwig, The Arts and Crafts Movement in New York State. Layton, VT: Peregrin Smith Books, 1983.

John G. Shea. The Pennsylvania Dutch and Their Furniture. New York: van Nostrand Reinhold, 1980.

Lonn Taylor and David B. Warren. Texas Furniture: The Cabinetmakers and Their Work. Austin: Univ. of Texas Press, 1975.

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Created: 4 August 1998, SEL
Updated: 17 November 2007, BAS
Comments to: Eberhard Reichmann, reichman@ucs.indiana.edu
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