W.W.Denslow) who illustrated the first edition of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, was a Roycrofter.
This week, in honor of Dyngus Day, I’m concentrating on my home town, Buffalo, New York.
On the southern fringes of Buffalo lies the village of East Aurora, which was a center of the turn-of-the-century Arts and Crafts Movement called the Roycroft.
The Roycroft was founded by Elbert Hubbard. After achieving success as traveling salesman for the Larkin Soap Company, he eventually came to the firm’s Buffalo home office, where he was an innovative and successful employee. A visit to England exposed him to William Morris and the English Arts and Crafts Movement. After returning to Buffalo, he founded a short-run press based on Morris’ ideals. This press was called the Roycroft Press and the movement would eventually take its name.
Hubbard was a self-described anarchist and socialist living in one of America’s capitalist boomtowns. In A Message to Garcia and Thirteen Other Things, Hubbard wrote, “I am an Anarchist. All good men are Anarchists. All cultured, kindly men; all gentlemen; all just men are Anarchists. Jesus was an Anarchist.”
But don’t dismiss that statement as quaint. The same year that A Message to Garcia was published, President William McKinley was assassinated by anarchist Leon Czolgosz on the other side of Buffalo. Anarchism was a threat to American culture on a par with fundamentalist Islamic terrorism today.
“I believe John Ruskin, William Morris, Henry Thoreau, Walt Whitman and Leo Tolstoy to be Prophets of God, and they should rank in mental reach and spiritual insight with Elijah, Hosea, Ezekiel, and Isaiah,” Hubbard wrote.
Somehow Hubbard managed to stay on the popular side of outrageous. He was a brilliant promoter. His championing of the Arts and Crafts movement attracted craftspeople to East Aurora, where they formed a community of almost 500 printers, bookbinders, furniture makers, and metalsmiths. Their creed was taken from John Ruskin, and it’s hard to argue with: “A belief in working with the head, hand and heart and mixing enough play with the work so that every task is pleasurable and makes for health and happiness.”
Hubbard and his wife were killed in the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915. The movement struggled on under the management of his son, but without Elbert Hubbard’s charisma, it foundered and closed.
The Roycroft Campus consists of fourteen buildings in the center of East Aurora. This complex has National Historic Landmark Status and includes the Elbert Hubbard Roycroft Museum and the Roycroft Inn.
Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!