" . . . its joints neither come unglued or creak when a stout yokel sits upon it."- House Beautiful, 1902
Early Saturday morning Mr. BITH and I headed over to Lilburn, GA for the Stickley lecture. We had about 20 minutes or so to mosey around and drool over furniture and meet the owner of Patterson as well as a Stickley rep and Stickley Corporate Historian, Mike Daniel, who would be giving the presentation.
While we nibbled on fruit, muffins and coffee we registered for the Stickley table giveaway and joked with another couple about stuffing the box (we didn't stuff or win, btw -- they did, win, not stuff, I mean. Drat.). Given that it was 10 a.m. on a Saturday morning, I was surprised to see as many people as there were there. One guy brought his little kid decked out in soccer gear. It was clear to me that going to a furniture store was the last place this kid wanted to be before his big game. He was a sport though and was pretty attentive throughout the hour or so long presentation.
It helped that Mike, the Corporate Historian, was fluid, funny and engaging - an overall wonderful presenter. He started with company history then moved on to try and define what makes arts and crafts, arts and crafts design. Then he talked about what goes into making the furniture, discoveries of old Stickley in good, bad and ugly conditions and how to care for furniture in general.
Mr. BITH and I walked away REALLY wanting a Stickley piece, which means of course that Mike was incredibly successful in building up consumer lust in his audience. After hearing about the craftsmanship and understanding more of the history, we had to agree when he said, "Not everyone can afford a Stickley piece, but that doesn't mean that it is overpriced"
I thought that I would try and share key learnings and things that made us laugh for those of you that thought about going, but didn't/couldn't - or for those that don't live anywhere near Mike's roadshow locations.
QUEEN VICTORIA BITES THE DUST IN 1901
Queen Victoria mourning card found on ancestorsatrest.com
Mike shared a photo of a woman sitting in a large, ornate Victorian reclining chair that had huge carved lions for armrests. One man in the audience asked, "does it roar when you push the (recliner) button?"
Mike's point in showing the photo was to illustrate that Queen Victoria's death was also the death of ostentatious Victorian design and the emerging simplicity of the arts and crafts lifestyle. Think how modern 'the new furniture', as Gustav Stickley called it, must have appeared to people then! It isn't surprising that the bungalow's construction and minimalistic attitude was the precursor of today's modern ranch.
STUFF ON STICKLEY
Gustav strongly believed in the integrity of his products -- so much so, that he published The Craftsman: an illustrated monthly magazine in the interest of better art, better work, and a better more reasonable way of living. Gustav educates the readers on various topics including the cost of his furniture construction. By actually putting his furniture plans in the magazine, he invites the reader to build the pieces themselves and see just how much care and labor goes into creating a Stickley piece.
Mike - remember, the guy delivering the presentation at Patterson Furniture? -- shared a link to an archive of all of The Craftsman issues. Such a treasure trove!
Check them out, but don't get so lost in them that you don't come back to me . . .
I'll wait . . .
. . .
For those of you still with me, maybe I better try to hurry up and finish this post, eh?
There were five Stickley brothers and each had their own furniture business. Sometimes they worked with each other, sometimes they didn't - but never all at once. Stickley merged after WW1 to survive. Leopold Stickley mainly carried the merged Stickley company after the war and did so by changing the furniture line to the Colonial Revival style
In 1956, Leopold received a silver award plate from a plethora of magazines honoring him for his contribution to the American lifestyle. He died in 1957 and his wife took over. E.J. Audi helps her design new pieces, but then dies in 1966.
Alfred, E.J.'s son, buys the dying company from Mrs. Stickley in 1974. Strangely enough, he was at the award dinner for Leopold Stickley at the age of 18. Mrs. Stickley warns Alfred not to "hire a bunch of long haired freaks because they are worthless". Mike Daniel (now Corporate Historian) is hired.
The long haired freaks must have figured things out with the help of old time employees and discover unfilled orders in a safe from 1968. They call places like Rich's in Atlanta to see if they still want their orders filled. Amazingly, they do . . . but now Little House on the Prairie/The Waltons are in and people want the craftsman style again . . . This is where long-haired freak, Mike Daniel, saves the day with the story of Earl in the boiler room.
Apparently, Mike discovered Earl burning old stuff in the boiler room just to get rid of it. Turns out the boxes were full of old furniture designs and Mike doesn't know what to do with them, but starts playing the game of "keeping things from Earl" and stashes them in the attic. These designs start to come in handy when they try to fill old orders and new ones coming in for the trademark Stickley look. Mike also starts travelling looking for old Stickley pieces so that they can figure out how to recreate them. This is how Mike becomes the "Corporate Historian".
As he discovers old Stickley furniture, he starts to see how differently the Stickley brothers assembled their pieces and what worked and what didn't. This is why they don't call their furniture reproductions, but rather reissuing because the furniture is a blend of the best of Stickley brother's craftsmanship. For example, Leopold came up with these techniques:
Illustrations from the Stickley catalogue
Mike said that he takes care of the museum pieces by spraying them with a fine mist of water and immediately wiping with a soft cloth. He only uses polish once or twice a year and says that polishes can actually strip the finish off of wood - especially when you switch to different kinds of polishes. Crazy, huh? You can read more about care here.
Also, if you run across any dark/near black finished Stickley pieces, don't try and clean or refinish them. This effect was caused by fuming the piece with ammonia and you can't replicate the effect once the tannins are depleted. Just saying. In case you ever even THOUGHT about refinishing a Stickly, lol.
SAVED THE BEST FOR LAST
The coolest thing I learned about Stickley at the lecture you ask? They WANT and ENCOURAGE you to write your story on the bottom of Stickley drawers and tables. Gustav used to take notes and try different stains on the bottom of his furniture. Stickley recognizes that this furniture is owned by humans and humans have stories and pass their Stickley furniture down in their family.
Mike tells a great story about desperately wanting a Stickley rocking chair he spotted at a sale. The family decided not to sell it for the sole reason that on the bottom of the chair was an inscription from one family member to his wife on their anniversary. Mike also told a story of a Stickley table located at a bed and breakfast that has signatures from notable guests on the bottom of it. Wonder what that will go for at auction?!
SPEAKING OF AUCTIONS
Turns out that "long haired freak" Mike used to play bluegrass at the same clubs these two did.
Recognize them? Mike is behind the scenes at a lot of Antique Roadshows and says that the Keno brothers just laugh at how they have all cleaned up since first knowing one another. No more long hair, you see ;)
INLAY WORK THAT WILL MAKE YOU CRY
I will leave you with these beauties since they are lodged in my heart for a splurge some day. I seem most attracted to Harvey Ellis' work. Astonishingly enough, Harvey only worked at Stickley for 7 months before passing away.
We sat underneath a H.E. mirror at the lecture with little inlaid ships. Amazing, but can't find any closeup pictures of it anywhere. Oh, dear. Guess that means I will have to go visit it again. Maybe bring it home? What say you?