Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Arts & Crafts

Someone recently posted a query to the Silence list about John Cage and the Arts & Crafts movement. I posted this response:

The phrase "Arts & Crafts" refers here to two related but distinct movements. The first was the well-known professional movement in architecture, the decorative arts, and to a more limited extent in gallery arts inspired by the international, and particularly British, models, but soon marked by local styles, most notably the "craftsman" (or "mission") houses and furniture and the Batchhelder tiles. Californian styles looked not only to British models, but also to colonial Californian and Asian influences. My own great-grandmother's house in Paso Robles was a typical Arts and Crafts bungalow, of white plastered adobe, red tile roof, with a mixture of decorations as much Asian as European. The second was a popular movement for homemade decorative arts, and Cage's mother presumably had a shop specializing in this market; it is often overlooked the extent to which the professional movement trickled down into amateur activities in every area from bookbinding to ceramics. While the US has hobbyists everywhere, it was truly on the west coast that the movement became an essential part of the lifestyle, and the geographical setting was especially ripe for admixtures of Asian and European elements. There was even amateur arts and crafts architecture: the house I grew up in, in the Russian neighbohood Claremont, was one of a number of houses built and designed by the owners themselves during the depression years, and assembled from local rock, torn-up chunks of pavement, and other materials salvaged from earthquake remains; the houses incorporated either "mission" or more anglophile elements. This do-it-yourself attitude was a real presence in the schools, community recreation programs, and private courses, and it's not difficult to recognize its presence in the working attitude of both Cage and -- perhaps even more so -- Lou Harrison (who is explicit about his debt to Wm. Morris, even setting Morris's Rapunzel). I would even go so far as to associate the music pedagogy of Cage's Aunt Phoebe, with whom he collaborated, with this attitude.

2 comments:

docker said...

>>> the house I grew up in, in the Russian neighborhood Claremont, was one of a number of houses built and designed by the owners themselves during the depression years, and assembled from local rock, <<<

Wow. I've seen those houses. Very impressive - but they struck me as uncomfortable. And they must be the devil to maintain.

But I suppose growing up in such a place would drive anyone to become a creative artist of some sort.

Daniel Wolf said...

David --

Rock houses (ours was actually hopped up pavement) are incredibly pleasant places. With two foot thick walls, they were naturally cool in the summer and held warmth nicely in the winter. The only major maintenance was the roof every thirty years or so, and painting the wooden trim from time to time. The wiring and plumbing is probably close to replacement time, but that's typical of a house of this age, and no more difficult to replace than in a stucco house.