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Forum topic by DannyBoy posted 12-11-2009 04:50 PM 1745 views 0 times favorited 6 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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521 posts in 3891 days

12-11-2009 04:50 PM

Topic tags/keywords: arts and crafts mission design debate william morris

I know this one is going to cause some debate (and likely already has), but I have to say it.

There is a lot of furniture on this sight that is described as Mission. Then, there is a lot of furniture that is called Arts and Crafts. Now, I’m no expert so I’ll ask: What is the real difference.

A lot of what I have read leads me to believe that “Mission” isn’t the same thing as Arts and Crafts. But, they must be similar because so much of what I would call Arts and Crafts style is labeled as Mission (even by magazines and publications; the same ones that are telling me the difference). It gets confusing.

(Now, this part may be wrong because I’m going completely off of memory for this part.) I remember reading that Mission was a line of furniture offered by one company during the turn of the century and the label stuck to Arts and Crafts furniture. Like I said, I may have this confused with something else, but if that is the case then wouldn’t a Mission piece have to be at the least a recreation of one of the pieces from that line?

I know that that Arts and Crafts was an entire movement that encompassed more than just furniture but art and living as well. William Morris (who we attribute to the design of the Morris chair; it was actually a guy with the last name Peg) was the forefather of much of this movement in philosophy and primed much of the design and thought behind the design of furniture of this movement. Really, as a history, the Arts and Crafts movement could be a major at a university (or at the least a really interesting read).

Of course, beauty and style are in the eye of the beholder, so one can state that to them, such and such will always be Mission. But, if we approach it from a practical ideal, what really is the difference and which term is correct?


-- He said wood...

6 replies so far

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#1 posted 12-11-2009 05:22 PM

let me mud it up some more if I can.. I also throw Craftsman or Shaker style into this mix. Now I’m just a midwest redneck, but it all looks the same to me. It’s a style I love. I think it has more to do with location. What part of the country your in. Clean simple lines with pure function in mind.
Strong American Beautiful.


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1083 posts in 3272 days

#2 posted 12-11-2009 05:55 PM

To my understanding, Mission style is essentially a subset of arts and crafts style furniture. (Granted, some days I don’t understand much.) Some of the people already involved in the arts and crafts movement were influenced by California missions and their style. They started making furniture along the same lines, but kept the whole arts and crafts handmade philosophy.

-- Karen - a little bit of stupid goes a long way

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521 posts in 3891 days

#3 posted 12-11-2009 09:35 PM

Craftsman… That’s what I was trying to think of. That bit above about Mission being a line was actually Craftsman being a line of furniture… I just couldn’t get it out of my head this morning.

-- He said wood...

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297 posts in 3374 days

#4 posted 12-11-2009 09:57 PM


There is a difference between the marketing of products using these various terms and the history behind each of the terms. For example, a reader’s digest version of the history of Mission style might be the following (KayBee is more or less correct):

The label Mission comes from the Spanish Missions that were established by the Spanish padres as they migrated north from Mexico. The Mission aesthetic is really a vernacular style born out of the crucible that was the difficult frontier life and the value (religious) placed on labor and simple (humble) craftsmanship.

To the style-setters back east the simple nature of the style was seen as a relief from the excesses of the Victorians. Designers quickly began to merge Mission with the Arts and Crafts movement, due to the style’s compatibility, both in underlying philosophy and aesthetics.

Mission’s major aesthetic characteristics:

straight lines
rectangular geometry
flat panels
emphasis on wood grain
stain glass
hammered copper or iron
leather or plain cloth

(The aesthetics of expressing the joinery is not a typical feature of Mission furniture, but is a characteristic of the Arts and Crafts movement.)

Who’s who:

The originals:
Since authentic Mission furniture is vernacular who the makers were (to the best of my knowledge) is lost to time.

The philosophical underpinnings:
The Catholic church (the padres)
John Ruskin and William Morris (Arts and Crafts)

The Manufacturers (Arts and Crafts): (brought to you by Wikipedia)

Joseph McHugh
L&JG Stickley/ Stickley Brothers
Charles Limbert
Charles Rohlfs
Grand Rapids Bookcase and Chair Company (Lifetime)
The Shop of the Crafters
Greene and Greene (The Hall Brothers)

-- criticism: the art of analyzing and evaluating the quality of an artistic work...

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297 posts in 3374 days

#5 posted 12-11-2009 10:05 PM

Additionally, the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo was instrumental in publicizing the Mission style

Mission Style Furniture by Pete Maloney

McHugh Mission Furniture ChairThe descriptive name “mission furniture” was first coined by Joseph McHugh, a New York furniture manufacturer and retailer, to describe his line of straight line rustic style furniture that he began producing about 1895. The mission style furniture design was based on a chair that had been designed for the Swedenborgian Church of the New Jerusalem in San Francisco, circa 1894-1985. The mission chair was a simple rush-seated chair. The design of the church and the chairs were influenced by the Spanish missions of the area, thus the term “mission furniture”. The architectural office of A. Page Brown had architects Bernard Maybeck and A.C. Schweinfurth design the church and they chose this mission style.

Mission furniture caught on as a generic term for the style of furniture and also the European term “arts & crafts” was used. At about the same time that McHugh was commercializing his line of mission furniture, Elbert Hubbard and Gustav Stickley were developing their own designs. Gustav Stickley Furniture Morris Chair – Mission Style Furniture. Many of the pieces had transitional designs that combined both Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau styles, but by 1900 the designs of Stickley and Roycroft became more straight lined and developed into the familiar mission style, as we know it. Interestingly, both McHugh and Stickley exhibited at the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York with McHugh winning a silver medal.

-- criticism: the art of analyzing and evaluating the quality of an artistic work...

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521 posts in 3891 days

#6 posted 12-14-2009 05:11 PM

Here’s some more to confuse the history or the terms. I found this in a book I check out from our local library:

Which is it? Arts adn Crafts, Mission, or Craftsman?

The Terms Mission, Craftsman, and Arts and Crafts are often mistakenly used interchangeably. In fact, they have quite distinct meanings.

Arts and Crafts is the umbrella term that applies generally to all crafts—from tiles and textiles to ceramics, furniture, and illuminated manuscripts—produced under the influence of anti-industrialist ideas for social reform. the ideas were first articulated by John Ruskin and William Morris. The term Arts and Crafts was coined after the Arts and Crafts Exhibition of 1888 in London. The movement, which emphasized handcraftmanship, honest design, and local materials, began in England, the spread to continental Europe and America.

Mission refers generally to rectilinear American furniture of the Arts and Crafts movement. The term was apparently coined with reference to the simple, solid furniture of some Spanish missions in California. It’s believed to have been first applied to work by Joseph McHugh but was subsequently adopted almost universally in the marketing campaigns of major American furniture manufacturers. Much of this furniture was originally inspired by Gustav Stickley’s Craftsman line of furniture.

Craftsman is the trad name Stickley chose for his line of Arts and Crafts furniture. Although much American-manufactured furniture was made in imitation of Stickley’s Craftsman line, non but Stickley’s is properly called Craftsman furniture.”

This was in the book “Arts and Craft Furniture: From Classic to Contemporary” by Kevin Rodel and Jonathan Binzen (Tauten Press 2003).

The last paragraph seems a bit purest but makes sense. However, it is a fine example of branding. Stickly’s furniture was so influential that people are still using his brand name to describe the style (much like Asprin had done).

I think this further solidifies the term Mission being McHugh’s as well. Though, the comparison of McHugh’s Mission furniture with Stickley’s I think may be stretched (or at least I’m misunderstanding the author’s intent). If I’m in a furniture shop and there is a “Mission” piece next to a “Stickly” piece, I don’t see a great deal of design similarities.


-- He said wood...

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