Identification Guides

Mission or Arts and Crafts 1860-1920

Ornate Victorian furniture began to lose its popularity in the last few years of the nineteenth century. A new style called Mission or Arts and Crafts emerged at the beginning of the twentieth century. This simple, functional furniture was usually made of oak. It had very straight lines with little if any decoration. Only the prominent mortise-and-tenon joints relieved the smooth oak surface.

Why was this furniture called Mission? Some sources, including furniture catalogs of the time, claimed the pieces were inspired by the Franciscan missions of California. Some say the name came about because the makers felt the furniture had a mission to be used and appreciated by the public. It was a simple, dignified style without elaboration or ornament. The chairs were made to be comfortable, and the tables were made to be durable.

The best-known maker of the new Mission style furniture was Gustav Stickley. His furniture was inspired by the philosophy and work of John Ruskin and William Morris, who promoted the artistic ideas of medieval times and the virtues of handcrafted furniture. The Mission style of Gustav Stickley became so popular that many other companies made pieces of similar design. The ideas spread to the Sears, Roebuck catalog and finally to the do-it-yourself manuals for school woodworking shops. It was so common it was no longer stylish, and, by the 1920s, designers turned to a newer look, art deco.