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The Arts and Crafts Movement in Victoria, B.C.

   

Roycroft Institute

The Roycroft Institute is considered to be one of the most successful American craft communities (Anscombe, pg. 66). Founded in 1895, by Elbert Hubbard, an ex-successful soap salesperson, the Roycroft shops were located in East Aurora, New York.

Inspired by William Morris, Hubbard began the Roycroft Institute as a small press which published such journals as the Philistine. Soon, a community of artists grew, adding a bindery and a eatherwork shop. Another turning point in the Roycroft history was the employment of Karl Kipp. Karl Kipp joined the Roycroft Institute in 1908 and became foreman of the newly developed metalwork shop.

At a Roycroft Institute Picnic
At a Roycroft Institute Picnic

By 1901, the Roycroft Institute was offering furniture through mail-order catalogues. Hubbard claimed that each piece of furniture was made-to-order, reflecting the Arts and Crafts Movement's philosophy of individual styles and hand-made goods. However, this is considered to be highly unlikely given the types of machines in the Roycroft shops and given that they employed over 400 people. Despite this implausible claim, Hubbard was considered to be a smart businessperson with a good marketing scheme (Anscombe pg. 67).

The Roycroft Institute was a true artist community. Although many local residents from East Aurora were employed there, an even greater number came from elsewhere to find work. Roycroft developed an apprentice system where workers could learn various crafts, moving from one shop to another. The cultural life of the community included lectures by Hubbard, which could be read in the Fra, another influential publication of the Roycroft Press. The Fra was used as a marketing tool for the Roycroft products and as an avenue where Hubbard could preach his Arts and Crafts beliefs.

M969.13.95, Roycroft Copper and Silver Vase, the Roycroft Institute, c1901
M969.13.95
Roycroft Copper and Silver Vase
the Roycroft Institute, c1901

Karl Kipp, the foreman of the metalwork shop, had a long lasting influence over the Roycroft copper shops. Kipp conceived of most of the metalwork designs himself before turning the manufacturing over to the one of the many craftspersons. Kipp left the Roycroft Institute in 1912 to begin his own metalwork studio called the Tookay or two k's from his initials.

Dard Hunter was another individual who influenced the styles produced at the Roycroft Institute. Hunter joined the Roycrofters in 1901 and worked at designing furniture, metal objects, leaded glass and books. In 1908, Hunter went to Vienna to study Viennese styles in arts and crafts. Hunter is said to have influenced Karl Kipp's introduction of Viennese influences in many of the Roycroft metalwork designs.

In 1915, Elbert and Alice Hubbard perished on board the Lusitania. Their son Bert took over the Roycroft business. He persuaded Karl Kipp to return to his former position in the metalwork shops and established Roycroft departments in hundreds of stores across the United States.

The Roycroft Institute became victim to the depression and was sold off in an auction in 1938. For his time, Elbert Hubbard, who was neither an artist nor a designer, can be considered a good businessperson. His personality is said to have drawn people to the Roycroft merchandise and keep the Roycroft community together (Clark, pg. 45). Hubbard was the first to use mass advertising to influence the styles and purchases of the middle class in North America and beyond. And, Hubbard remained true to the philosophy, if not always the practice, of the Arts and Crafts Movement.

At a Roycroft Institute Picnic
M969.13.37 A-B
Roycroft Copper Candlesticks
the Roycroft Institute, c1905

The Roycroft Institute has left a large legacy. Each Roycroft piece was inscribed with either an orb or a cross, which Hubbard chose as the Roycroft symbols, or with the Roycroft name. Each piece of metalwork was inscribed with a capital R within a circle, topped with a cross. It is estimated that tens of thousands of pieces were produced in the Roycroft Institute between 1908 and 1938. Since Hubbard insisted that each piece carry the Roycroft insignia, and not that of the individual artists', the Roycroft mark is one of the best known shopmarks in the American Arts and Crafts Movement. Only a very few of the metalwork pieces contain the insignia "KK" of Karl Kipp.

The metalwork of the Roycroft Institute became increasingly popular while furniture and other large items diminished in importance. This increase in popularity for metalwork was due to the desire of consumers who came to East Aurora for smaller, more portable souvenirs. Copper was the most widely-used metal in the Roycroft metalwork shops. Copper pieces were usually decorated using brass and silver.

 
 
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