Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Other Arts and Crafts Designer

QUESTION: I have a Mission chair that has been in my family for decades. I never paid much attention to it. But recently when I was cleaning it, I turned it over and noticed a label under the arm of the chair which reads, "Limberts Arts and Crafts Furniture/Trademark/Made in Grand Rapids and Holland.” I know that Grand Rapids is in Michigan, but did this company also make furniture in the Netherlands? And just who is Limbert?

ANSWER: Charles Limbert made what you call “Mission” furniture in Grand Rapids and Holland, Michigan. In fact, his furniture wasn’t constructed in the Mission Oak style, which actually was a style of Arts and Crafts furniture that developed just before the turn-of-the-20th century.  This wasn’t as much of a style as what manufacturers called furniture made of oak that featured simple horizontal and vertical lines and flat panels that accentuate the grain of the wood. It was supposed to emulate furniture of the Spanish missions in California and Texas. What Charles Limbert made was furniture in the pure Arts and Crafts style.

The Arts and Crafts Movement in America originated in mid-19th-century England where the teachings of John Ruskin and William Morris popularized social reform. The movement began as a revolt against the Industrial Revolution and the dehumanization of the workers being replaced by machines. Americans learned about this movement through Gustav Stickley's magazine The Craftsman. Hand craftsmanship and a return to simplicity became hallmarks of the movement. These ideals applied not only to the lifestyle of the follower, but also to furniture and accessories in the home.

Hailed as the beginning of Modernism in the United States, Arts and Crafts interiors were in direct contrast to the preceding Victorian period of ornate decorative arts. Rectilinear forms of quartersawn oak replaced ornately carved rosewood and mahogany Victorian furniture. Mortise and tenon joints, butterfly keys, and the grain of the wood, itself, became the ornamentation on Arts and Crafts pieces.

While Gustav Stickley is best known as the leader of Arts and Crafts Movement in America, other designers also achieved recognition for their contribution to Arts and Crafts design. One of them was Charles Limbert. His company produced high quality Arts and Crafts furniture, but didn’t attempt to influence consumers about the idealized harmony of the Arts and Crafts lifestyle.

In the early 1880s, Charles Linbert began his furniture manufacturing career at the John A. Colby and Co.. in Chicago. He learned all sides of the furniture business— design, production, and marketing. An 1889 partnership with Philip Klingman established the Limbert and Klingman Chair in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Limbert and Klingman manufactured period reproduction chairs for only two years. In 1894, Limbert formed the C.P. Limbert and Company to produce Arts and Crafts furniture.

By 1906, the company had grown and moved to Holland, Michigan. Limbert called his line of furniture "Holland Dutch Arts and Crafts," most likely in reference to the local Dutch population.

Limbert's early furniture shows influences ranging from Japanese to Gothic. Some of his early china cabinets and bookcases have doors with stained glass in an Art Nouveau style.

His peak of design achievement came during 1904 to 1906 when he introduced many of his cut-out designs. Many of his de-signs were internationally inspired by the Vienna Secessionist School and designers such as Scotsman Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Austrian Josef Hoffmann. Limbert employed designers such as Hungarian architect Paul Horti and father and son Austrian designers, Louis and William J. Gohlke.

Limbert promoted his furniture as being "essentially the result of hand labor, with machinery being used where it can be employed to the advantage of the finished article." Like Stickley, he didn’t let machinery control production and emphasized the contribution of skilled craftsmen in his furniture promotions.

He constructed his furniture of quartersawn white oak, with well-executed doweled joints, keyed tenons and splined tabletops. Long, tapering corbels under arms characterize Limbert chairs. Unfortunately, Limbert didn’t extend his wood working quality to the hardware used on his pieces, most of which came from the Grand Rapids Brass Company.

Compared with Stickley's work, Limbert's designs were typically less severe and more visually interesting, usually achieved through the use of cut-outs and other elements inspired by the as English Arts and Crafts Movement and Dutch folk furniture.

His pieces were among the original furnishings of the Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone National Park. Today, several wash stands remain in the Old House section of the Inn.

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