Charles Rohlfs American, 1853-1936

"'Rohlfs' sculpturally imaginative sense of design differentiates him from most other British and American artist-craftsmen working at the turn of the century, and places him in a class of his own."
-John Murdoch, Director of Art Collections at The Huntington


Rohlfs designed and made furniture for his family's use as early as 1888, but he did not commence his decade-long career as a professional furniture maker until 1897. Rohlfs had no professional training as a furniture maker. By century's end, Rohlfs had set up a shop on Washington Street in downtown Buffalo and began producing examples of what he called "artistic furniture" or the "Rohlfs style." Starting in 1899, Chicago retailer Marshall Field advertised and offered furniture and other decorative objects by Rohlfs, but sales fell short of expectations.


Rohlfs participated at the Arts and Crafts Exhibition at the National Arts Club in New York in December 1900. The next year, he participated both as an exhibitor and as an organizer of the Pan-American Exposition in his hometown of Buffalo. The Exposition brought him fame. "So far as furniture is concerned, Buffalo can claim to hold the most original man in America," one enthusiastic Berlin commentator wrote about Rohlfs' work. Rohlfs is the only American furniture maker known to have participated in the International Exposition of Decorative Art in Turin in 1902. Perhaps as a result of the exposure he received there, Rohlfs became a member of the Royal Society of Arts in London.