Victorian Literature Arts and Crafts Movement
Thomas Cooper
  • LAST REVIEWED: 20 February 2024
  • LAST MODIFIED: 20 February 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199799558-0205


The Arts and Crafts movement was one of several avant-garde artistic movements which occurred, principally, across Europe and America from approximately the 1860s to the 1930s. It emerged from a cultural and social landscape that was despoiled by poor design standards and increasingly mechanized and industrialized systems of manufacture. At its heart, it was a movement that aimed to change how and why art was made. In varying ways, it espoused collaboration between designers and craftspeople, instating joy in labor, working within the limitations of a medium, respecting materials, embedding artmaking in everyday life, and producing useful and beautiful objects for the many, not the few. Those making and writing on art in the wake of this movement have tended, broadly, to reflect on the Arts and Crafts movement as a historical development defined by its noble ideals, even if these were often idealistic and unfeasible. For many, the value of these ideals lies in their persistent relevance. Particularly in the twenty-first century, the writings of William Morris or the furniture of Ernest Gimson, for instance, appear prescient in the ways they encourage us to challenge a neoliberal capitalist world of corporate greed, environmental destruction, sweated labor, mass production, and planned obsolescence. The Arts and Crafts movement is a vast topic on which there is a wealth of scholarly literature. The first flowering of Arts and Crafts movement scholarship occurred between the early 1970s and late 1990s. Leading experts in the field—Annette Carruthers, Margot Coatts, Alan Crawford, Mary Greensted, Tanya Harrod, Linda Parry and Peter Stansky—focused on the Arts and Crafts movement in Britain and its major themes, players, and organizations. In the 2000s, a new wave of scholarship established the Arts and Crafts movement as an international phenomenon, which spread and arose independently across much of northern and eastern Europe, the United States, and Japan. This was led by Rosalind P. Blakesley, Wendy Kaplan, Karen Livingstone, and Linda Parry. More recently, Glenn Adamson, Julia Griffin, Imogen Hart, Anna Mason, Zoë Thomas, and others have broadened the critical scope of Arts and Crafts movement scholarship. Their work addresses questions of gender, materiality, craft status, canonicity, and locality.

General Overviews

Scholars have adopted both chronological and thematic approaches, oftentimes mixing the two, to try to present histories of the Arts and Crafts movement in comprehensible overviews. Naylor 1990, Stansky 1985, Carruthers and Greensted 1999, and Blakesley 2006 survey the movement’s principal actors (designers, architects, makers, theorists, and so on); range of media and object type; evolving ideas and methods; key organizations, societies, and manufacturers; and significant centers of industry. Attention is frequently paid to the decades between 1880 and 1914; this is regarded as the period in which the movement first took form, stridently advanced, and then receded. However Harrod 1999, Blakesley 2006, and Hart 2010 debate the movement’s origins and endings, considering the early influences of the 1830s, when and why the term ‘Arts and Crafts movement’ came into existence, and its far-reaching legacies in the twentieth century. Of special note is the increased focus on women of the Arts and Crafts movement. Callen 1979, Attfield and Kirkham 1995, and Thomas 2020 evidence the extensive numbers of women art and craft workers in the period and the crucial contributions they made to later Arts and Crafts movement developments. Popular accounts of the Arts and Crafts movement remain celebratory, heroicizing the movement’s practitioners and adherents for their critiques of industrial labor in the modern age; rallying for the roles of art, pleasure, and work in an ideal society; and hailing the contemporary relevance of the advocates’ radical and anti-imperialist politics and environmental concerns. The titles selected here collectively mount a series of early critical assessments of the ways in which the movement has been praised, in particular by untangling the contradictions between theory and practice and the complexities of the artistic, political, and intellectual lives of its leading lights.

  • Attfield, Judy, and Pat Kirkham, eds. A View from the Interior: Women and Design. Rev. ed. London: Women’s Press, 1995.

    Although not exclusively dedicated to the Arts and Crafts movement, this edited volume contains three important essays on women in the Arts and Crafts movement. Originally printed in 1989.

  • Blakesley, Rosalind P. The Arts and Crafts Movement. London: Phaidon, 2006.

    This survey provides the most up-to-date and concise history of the movement. Moreover, it demonstrates its transnational spread and the iterations of the Arts and Crafts movement in northern, central, and eastern Europe, and the United States.

  • Callen, Anthea. Angel in the Studio: Women in the Arts and Crafts Movement, 1870–1914. London: Astragal Books, 1979.

    This was the first critical accounts of women in the Arts and Crafts movement. While the book’s conclusions, that the nature of making in this period replicated gendered divisions of labor and larger patriarchal social paradigms, have since been overturned (see Thomas 2020), the wide range of makers and designers covered in this book affirm it as a useful source of reference today.

  • Carruthers, Annette, and Mary Greensted, eds. Simplicity or Splendour: Arts and Crafts Living: Objects from the Cheltenham Collections. Cheltenham, UK: Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum, 1999.

    This provides an extensive discussion on what is defined by the term the ‘Arts and Crafts movement.’ Also provides a catalogue one of the best Arts and Crafts collections in Britain.

  • Harrod, Tanya. The Crafts in Britain in the 20th Century. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999.

    This publication covers an extensive range of practitioners, workshops, media, texts, and ideas. Harrod unpicks the legacies of the Arts and Crafts movement in the twentieth century and gives careful attention to the shifting theoretical and practical landscapes of the crafts.

  • Hart, Imogen. Arts and Crafts Objects. Manchester & New York: Manchester University Press, 2010.

    Arts and Crafts Objects is essential reading for the topic. Hart reexamines the origins of the movement, interrogates what historians mean when they use the term ‘Arts and Crafts,’ and provides a critical account of the ways in which objects are interpreted against ideas.

  • Naylor, Gillian. The Arts and Crafts Movement: A Study of its Sources, Ideals and Influences on Design Theory. London: Trefoil Press, 1990.

    Upon its first release in 1971 (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press), this study was the earliest survey of the Arts and Crafts movement in secondary literature. It is therefore an important work with which to begin in understanding the historiography of the movement. The second edition (1990) provides an updated bibliography, listing scholarship produced since the 1970s.

  • Stansky, Peter. Redesigning the World: William Morris, the 1880s and the Arts and Crafts. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1985.

    Taking sight of the 1880s, this book explores the early influence of William Morris and the histories of key Arts and Crafts movement organizations: The Century Guild, The Art Workers’ Guild, and The Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society.

  • Thomas, Zoë. Women Art Workers and the Arts and Crafts Movement. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2020.

    DOI: 10.7765/9781526140449

    A response to Callen 1979 and Stansky 1985, this social and cultural study reconceptualizes the Arts and Crafts movement by positioning women center stage, examining the buildings, spaces, relationships and networks that played out as sites of women artworking cultures and women-centered causes. The book demonstrates how women were vital to the successful democratization and popularization of the Arts and Crafts movement.

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