"When a man's home is born out of his heart and developed through his labor and perfected through his sense of beauty, it is the very cornerstone of life." ~ Gustav Stickley

Early Life

One of eleven children of German émigrés Leopold and Barbara Schlager Stoeckel, Gustav Stickley was born Gustavus Stoeckel on March 9, 1858, in Osceola, Wisconsin. The eldest surviving son, Stickley experienced the rigors of life growing up on a small Midwestern farm, forgoing his formal education in 1870 to continue work in his father’s field of stonemasonry and help support his struggling family. By early 1876, Stickley’s mother and siblings moved to Brandt, Pennsylvania, where Gustav worked in his uncle’s chair factory – his first formal training in the furniture industry.

 

Furniture Design

Stickley's new furniture reflected his ideals of simplicity, honesty in construction, and truth to materials. Unadorned, plain surfaces were enlivened by the careful application of colorants so as not to obscure the grain of the wood and mortise and tenon joinery was exposed to emphasize the structural qualities of the works. Hammered metal hardware, in armor-bright polished iron or patinated copper emphasized the handmade qualities of furniture which was fabricated using both handworking techniques and modern woodworking machinery within Stickley's Eastwood, New York, factory (now a part of Syracuse, New York). Dyed leather, canvas, terry cloth and other upholstery materials complemented the designs.

Those ideals – simplicity, honesty, truth – were reflected in his trademark, which includes the Flemish phrase Als Ik Kan inside a joiner's compass. The phrase is generally translated 'to the best of my ability.'

His firm's work, both nostalgic in its evocation of handicraft and the pre-industrial era and proto-modern in its functional simplicity, was popularly referred to as being in the Mission style, though Stickley despised the term as misleading. In 1903 he changed the name of his company again, to the Craftsman Workshops, and began a concerted effort to market his works – by then including furniture as well as textiles, lighting, and metalwork – as Craftsman products. Ultimately, over 100 retailers across the United States represented the Craftsman Workshops.

In 1902, Stickley's furniture evolved from solid, monumental forms to lighter shapes, relieved by arches, tapering legs, and – in a new experimental line – inlay as decoration. Within a year the inlay designs would be all but dropped from production save special orders, but the broader emphasis on less massive forms would remain. In keeping with this new emphasis, Stickley also began offering furniture in willow to complement the heavier oak designs. 

LEGACY

Gustav Stickley died on April 21, 1942. He is buried in the Oakwood Cemetery in Syracuse, New York.

In recent decades, Stickley and his work have become popularly recognized once again. It is particularly his early furniture, produced between 1900 and 1904, that is often seen as appealing to collectors. In 1988, Barbra Streisand paid $363,000 for a Stickley sideboard from the Gustav Stickley House in Syracuse; magazines such as Style 1900 (out of print as of January 2013) and American Bungalow cater to those interested in the Arts and Crafts movement. A major touring exhibition organized by the Dallas Museum of Art, Gustav Stickley and the American Arts & Crafts Movement, opened at the Newark Museum on September 15, 2010. The exhibition then opened at the Dallas Museum of Art on February 18, 2011, and remained on view until May 8, 2011, before opening at the San Diego Museum of Art on June 18, 2011, subsequently closing on September 11, 2011.

Gustav's brothers Leopold Stickley (Lee), Albert Stickley, Charles Stickley and John George Stickley also produced Arts and Crafts furniture. Although no longer held by the Stickley family, the successor firm to the L. & J.G. Stickley Company continues to operate in Manlius, New York, producing a variety of styles, including many original Gustav Stickley Arts and Crafts designs. The Company operates a museum, located in the original L & J. G. factory build. It features the work of the Stickley brothers and is located near its current factory site.