Expert David Rudd is American Bungalow’s knowledgeable guide into the fascinating and often confusing world of antiques. Send your questions and photos to firstname.lastname@example.org and share your find with other readers. We look forward to hearing from you.
David Rudd is president of the Arts and Crafts Society of Central New York and owner of Dalton’s American Decorative Arts in Syracuse; visit his shop at daltons.com. The opinions expressed in this column are David’s own.
From Spring 2017 Issue 93
What came to be called the “revival” of Americans’ interest in the early-20th-century Arts and Crafts Movement began in 1966 with a book by John Crosby Freeman on Gustave Stickley’s Craftsman Mission furniture and gathered momentum after Princeton University’s 1972 exhibition “American Arts and Crafts, 1876–1916.” By 1980, collecting antique Arts and Crafts furniture, as well as decorative and fine arts, had begun to spawn a lively American subculture that grew through the ensuing decade. In this two-part installment of his column on Arts and Crafts collecting, David Rudd retraces the growth of the revival through his experience as the owner of Dalton’s American Decorative Arts, in Syracuse. N.Y.
PART 1: 1981–1990
I WAS FIRST INTRODUCED to Stickley furniture and the American Arts and Crafts Movement in the late 1970s. I had majored in sculpture and photography in college, with an interest in design, and the aesthetic of this period in early-20th-century America spoke to me, particularly as it influenced the design and manufacturing of domestic furniture.
I had been working as a supervisor for a company in Syracuse, New York. My wife, Debbie Goldwein, and I had just bought our first house and were looking to furnish it. We stepped into an antiques shop one afternoon and found a Mission-style settle. That was the beginning of what has become a lifetime professional interest in the American Arts and Crafts movement, especially the work of Gustav Stickley and his brothers Leopold and John George (L. & J. G.), of Syracuse.
The fact that Syracuse was the home of the Stickley Craftsman Workshops, only a couple of miles from our store, was purely serendipitous. The location of the factory did, however, intensify my interest in all things Stickley and particularly in Gustav Stickley. The fact that the older neighborhoods of Syracuse were still inhabited by a generation of people who were familiar with the Stickleys and their furniture, including many whose relatives had worked in the Stickley factory, was, of course, an advantage for me.
The first piece of Stickley furniture I ever bought was a small L. & J. G. arm rocker that I still have today. My interest in the Stickleys soon became so consuming that I decided in 1981 to quit my job and open an antiques shop, specializing in this vintage American furniture.
Although there was plenty of vintage Stickley furniture in Syracuse-area homes in those years, it was difficult to find in the area’s antiques and second-hand stores. Local dealers and shop owners didn’t want to bother with it; it was heavy and difficult to move, and it wasn’t seen to be worth much. The only places it was bringing premium prices nationally were the larger metropolitan areas like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, where a few dealers felt it was “gallery-quality” material and where top interior designers and their
clients were quite attracted to the style.
When I first opened the shop, it had about 400 square feet. My initial inventory included a few Arts and Crafts pieces and some other things, including a number of Edward Curtis photographs of North American Indians.
In 1982 I devoted my first gallery show to the Curtis photographs. Although they are not necessarily Arts and Crafts material, their tonal quality—and the message of Curtis’s American Indian project, created to document a threatened indigenous way of life before it vanished—reflected the fascination (and, for many, reverence) with which Stickley and his contemporaries viewed American Indian culture and its artifacts.
Within three or four years I was able to expand the gallery to incorporate nearly half the space of the old drugstore’s first floor. This expansion allowed me to show more furniture as well as decorative and fine arts.
In 1988, as the so-called Arts and Crafts revival was spreading, Barbara Streisand, who had become a noted celebrity collector of Arts and Crafts pieces, jolted the antiques collector community during a major auction at Christie’s New York gallery. The room was filled with potential buyers attracted by a sale of furniture that Gustav Stickley had made for his own home, on Columbus Avenue in Syracuse. Streisand was there to bid for an imposing sideboard. By the time the hammer came down, she had bought it for an astonishing $363,000, a record price for a Gustav Stickley piece.
This was a pivotal moment in the revival, bringing the Arts and Crafts style to the attention of a broad section of the American public. Almost alone, that purchase legitimized what we in the antiques community were doing. Over the next several years, I don’t think a week went by without someone coming into Dalton’s and mentioning the “Streisand sideboard.”
In 1990, because I very much enjoyed meeting collectors and knowing where my prized pieces were going, I began doing shows in New York, Chicago, Minneapolis, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Boston, several other cities—and, of course, in Asheville, North Carolina, home of the annual National Arts and Crafts Conference. As a result, I got to know a great many collectors. More importantly, they got to know Dalton’s, and I soon had clients nationwide as the Arts and Crafts revival spread across North America.
Part 2 of this article, covering the period from 1990 to the present, will appear in AB Issue No. 94.
David Rudd is president of the Arts and Crafts Society of Central New York and owner of Dalton’s American Decorative Arts in Syracuse (Daltons.com). The opinions ex-pressed here are his own. Contact David at David.Rudd@ambungalow.com. We also invite you to post questions and share photos on Facebook, either to American Bungalow’s page or to Dalton’s American Decorative Arts page.