Robert Rust Surveys Arts & Crafts Architecture in Colorado

ArtsCraftslawriewilson008While most people recognize a Victorian home, or a Frank Lloyd Wright early modernist gem, there’s another period of architecture sandwiched between these two weighty styles that gets lost. Oddly enough, it was more pervasive than either Victorian or Wright’s influences. But to mention the Arts and Crafts period of architecture is sure to invite a puzzled response. Until, that is, you utter the word, ‘bungalow.’

“That’s because the Arts and Crafts period was not a style,” says Robert Rust, who has spent a lifetime as champion, writer and collector of the period, “it was a philosophy.” In its day and time, Arts and Crafts enthusiasts embraced nature, craftsmanship and original materials. They recoiled against the machine age in England of artifice, mechanistic design and excessive decoration. The American love for simplicity so evident in the early design of the New England Shakers, may be one reason why our nation embraced naturalistic English aesthetics. Bungalows came with a modest price tag, too, as well as wood interiors, hand crafted bookcases and basic interiors.

“When you look at the housing stock—and the big push for independent homes—the most prevalent was the bungalow,” Robert says of the early 20th century. The popularity of bungalows may have dimmed in the 1950s, but it has real staying power today. “There’s more furniture with the look of Arts and Crafts now than there was originally,” he says. Cities all over America, from Seattle to Dallas, Palo Alto to West Palm Beach, offer bungalows. As new homeowners embrace the aesthetics of this early time, these dated homes are less likely to be torn down. Enthusiastic owners hope to bring back the faded luster. Renovation projects are humming.

boettcherstickley061Robert has spent decades devoted to the arts, architecture, music, and food—nearly everything that surfaced during the original Arts and Crafts period. It was an era nearly impossible to overlook if you grew up in western New York, he says. The names of Roycroft and Stickley loomed large and still hold clout today. Roycroft was a commune of workers and designers who turned out exquisite objects. They also ran a printing press, which allowed them to disperse the design principles intrinsic to their group. The Stickley brothers crafted wood furniture so well made and simple that they are identified with the movement. The factory is in business today.

At one time, Robert was part owner of a number of the original Roycroft buildings, all on the National Historic Register. So it could have been quite a departure from the cradle of the American Arts and Crafts era to move to Colorado. After all, we are known for our frontier history and Victorian architecture. But Robert discovered that our roots in the Arts and Crafts period are stronger and more durable than we may realize. Overlooked marvels await us, he believes, to be revisited and savored.

He has collected a list that reflects an Arts and Crafts influence. It’s the genesis of a book he hopes to write, which will include the Kirkland Museum in Denver, Boettcher Mansion in Golden, Hiwan Homestead in Evergreen, Chautauqua in Boulder, Van Briggle Memorial building on the campus of Colorado College in Colorado Springs, the Pioneer Museum in Colorado Springs, St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Denver, the El Jebel building in Denver, the Decker Library, Steele Street and Doramor Schools in Denver, Washington Park and Oxford Hotel. Several Manitou Springs buildings are also on his list of significant buildings.

vanbrigglestacks6168But the most important building, he believes, is the Artus Van Briggle Memorial building on the Colorado College campus. Anne Van Briggle, the artist’s widow, commissioned the building as an architectural legacy for her husband. Artus died in 1904 from tuberculosis at the age of 35. “There’s nothing like it in this country,” Robert says, about the exquisite tile and brick façade. Designed by Nicholas Van der Arend, whose wife also suffered from tuberculosis, the architecture is Dutch, but with the style of Artus throughout.

Anne and Artus needed a bigger place for pottery after Artus won major national and international awards for his work. Anne was slated to carry on Artus’ original designs. During the award ceremonies, Artus had died, so “his awards were draped in bunting,” Robert says. “Anne was very active and won awards, too. She became a member of the Arts and Crafts Society of Boston. Perhaps she is not given the design credit she deserves,” he suggests. This astonishing building, he believes, should be a museum.

Arts&Craftsvanbrigglefront6161Another important Colorado Springs building is the Laurence and Dorothy Heller Estate. Now owned by the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs, the building was the home and artists’ studio for both. Built in the Pueblo Revival Arts and Crafts Style, it’s open to the public with the approval of the art department.

Second on his list is the town of Manitou Springs. The Craftwood Inn holds a unique place for it classic Arts and Crafts wood with stone exterior and polished wood interior. Other buildings in this small town are important, too. Rockledge Bed and Breakfast, the Cliff House, Briar Cliff Bed and Breakfast, Miramount Castle and neighborhoods of wonderful bungalows are worth noting. “It’s been an artistic community,” Robert says, and “there are some wonderful examples of residential architecture and summer architecture.”

Arts&Craftsboathouse010Denver boasts a number of public buildings. Two, he says, are inside Washington Park: the original boathouse and the Doschappel building. Both were recently restored.

The surrounding neighborhood is made up of bungalows and the name of one lake, Grassmer Lake, was borrowed from the writings of John Ruskin, the major Arts and Crafts writer of the time. “Unlike the East Coast, where most bungalows were made from wood, here they are made from brick,” Robert says, noting that the mayor of Denver during those years also owned a brick factory.

Arts&Craftsdressingrooms022But the wonderful masonry, set with style and ingenuity, often was the work of immigrant workers who brought their skills to America. “You would think there would be a lot of sameness with these bungalows,” Robert says, “but there isn’t and that’s largely due to the Italian masons. Many of these homes are owned by third and fourth generations of families.”

Steele Street School has “a spectacular exterior,” he says, with friezes inside, original to the building. Although he’s not sure who the artist might have been, the ABCs are hand painted and it has all original oak work and a tiled fireplace.

A similar building is in Platte Park, the Decker Memorial Library, which was a Carnegie Library (Andrew Carnegie endowed a library system). “It’s done in English cottage style,” Robert says.

The Dora More School, with its straight-backed chairs, will take you back in time to a classic American 20th century classroom. Tiles were among the most collectible crafts of the Arts and Crafts period and the Dora More’s Grueby tiles came out of Boston.

Arts&CraftskirklandThe Vance Kirkland Museum in Denver is another example of an artist’s studio set in the Arts and Crafts period. And their collection is important, too, for Vance collected work from some of the finest regional artists.

Other Denver sites include St. Andrews Episcopal Church on Glenarm Place, an English Gothic Revival. The Denver Women’s Press Club, built in 1913, on Logan Street, was the working studio for printmaker George Elbert Burr.

boettchercarriagehouse 075Outside Denver, Hiwan Homestead in Evergreen is a fine example of vernacular American Adirondack rustic architecture, typical of mountain parks around 1912. And, the Boettcher Mansion in Golden is a classic building exemplifying the English influence. Both have interiors that have stayed true to the design of their times. The Community House at Chautauqua in Boulder is stamped with bungalow detailing as are many of the surrounding cabins.

Finally, Robert says that pottery, too, had a presence in Colorado, with Denver Denura as a prime example. “It had a green matte glaze and is just as rare as Van Briggle’s work—just as collectible.”

Eventually, the bungalows would end after World War II. Frank Lloyd Wright’s influence told hold in most American schools of architecture. And, European immigrants trained in architecture brought the ideas of the German Bauhaus modernism to our shores. Still, the elements of the Arts and Crafts era remain with us today, in a love for natural materials, as well as handcrafted objects. The warmth and intimacy of bungalows invite new owners to cherish a classic style that never feels outdated.

Arts&Craftshiwan8372

Photos from top to bottom:

  • Colorado bungalow, about 1910
  • Prairie Winds (based in Westminster, Colorado) furniture in the Boettcher Mansion, Golden
  • Artus Van Briggle Memorial Building, Colorado Springs, kiln stacks and front.
  • Boathouse, Washington Park, Denver
  • Doschappel Building, Washington Park, Denver
  • Vance Kirkland original studio, now part of the Kirkland Museum, Denver
  • Carriage house, Boettcher Mansion, Golden
  • Hiwan Homestead, Evergreen

Helpful websites:

  • The Colorado Arts & Crafts Society champions architecture, design, history and literature from the Arts & Crafts influence. They’re based at the Boettcher Mansion in Golden; contact them at www.coloarts-crafts.org
  • Also, a show on the Arts & Crafts period in Colorado that includes the Native American design influence during those years takes place in Durango, October 22 to 24 at: www.durango-arts-craftsconference.com

Books by Robert Rust:

  • “The Arts & Crafts Home,” co-author Kitty Turgeon, Friedman/Fairfax Publishers
  • “Arts & Crafts”, co-author Kitty Turgeon, Friedman/Fairfax Publishers
  • “The Images of America Roycroft Camp”, co-author Kitty Turgeon, Arcadia Publishing