Menushopping cart
Tools for Working Wood
Invest in your craft. Invest in yourself.

JOEL Joel's Blog

The Craftsman Magazine, Christmas, & Jacob Riis


The Craftsman Magazine, Christmas, & Jacob Riis 4This past Saturday the whole family went up to the Museum of the City of New York for a banner day of really excellent exhibits (and some surprise free ice cream!). One exhibit that I was particularly keen to see was about the work of pioneering social reformer Jacob Riis, the famous author of "How the Other Half Lives." I've been very interested in his work for years because of his photographs of workers, slum life, and life on the Lower East Side (a traditionally immigrant section of Manhattan where my grandmother's family first lived when they arrived in New York). But to illustrate the cliche of "I learn something new every day," I learned from the exhibit of a connection between Riis, a religious man who lived in Richmond Hill, Queens (one neighborhood over from where I lived as a teenager) and Arts & Crafts furniture.

Let me explain.

The focus of the Early 20th Century American Arts & Crafts movement was "The Craftsman Magazine," which is now a great resource for all those A & C furniture designs that have become so popular among furniture makers. Gustav Stickley and others in the forefront of the A&C movement believed that publishing plans to make them accessible for people to make their own furniture was philosophically very important and the modern context of "The Craftsman Magazine" for me at any rate is as a source for furniture plans and and other items in the A&C design world. If you look through the magazine there was also a big push on "traditional living." But, frankly, I never really paid that much attention to anything other than the design and furniture articles.

Imagine my surprise when in the middle of the Riis exhibit there was a copy of the Craftman magazine! Riis wrote for them! What did he write about? Not about the squalid and unsanitary conditions of the poor, but rather of how Christmas was celebrated in Richmond Hill, and how he and some wealthy New Yorkers tried to get some traditional values back into the bacchanal that New Year's had become. He even mentions some of the old City traditions and where they came from, and the big tree at Madison Square, a tradition that has been relocated to Rockefeller Center for over 70 years now.

But here we are in the Christmas season and the turn of the New Year, and finding quite accidentally this connection between Furniture and traditional values for the season is pretty exciting.

Note: you can read the original article here. Here is a link to the issue (Riis's article is the fourth one, and first link is to the frontspiece and has a cleaner image of the tree). The entire archive of Craftsman magazines is here.

BTW in case anyone from the Museum of the City of New York reads this blog, I want you to know that between the Riis exhibit, the Folksingers of New York exhibit, the Landmarks exhibit, and the history of affordable housing in NYC exhibit - the Museum's current exhibits - you really demonstrate a mastery of putting subjects in context, way beyond just showing the ephemera of the subject matter. This is hard to do, and you folks did it really, really well! And the free, most excellent Blue Marble ice cream all visitors got on the day we visited was a stroke of genius!

For those of you who follow the "Work Magazine Reprint Project" a quick heads up as we are rapidly approaching the 200th issue which sadly, as I cannot locate more volumes, will be the end of the series. This is a real bummer but we have had a great run and some of the content (which will remain on-line) is amazing. The good new is that Ben's blog which has been fallow for several years is about to get a resurrection with lots of new content! - Stay tuned!

In conclusion - From everyone at Tools for Working Wood, We wish you and your family a very happy, healthy, and wonderful New Year!
Join the conversation
12/30/2015 Joe M
Happy New Year to you and you family, both at TWW and at home. Thanks for the blog posts over the year and we all look forward to the resurrected Ben's Blog. Keep it all coming!
12/30/2015 Erik Hinkston
Really enjoyed the Craftsman magazine site, maybe that could follow the Work magazine project???
Have a great New Years!
12/30/2015 Ben B
Joel - thanks for your blog. As a sometimes wannabe New Yorker living in Montana, I look forward to it every week.
I REALLY want to thank you for the link to the Craftsman archives. Sitting in front of the fire, sipping a glass of cabernet, I've just finished reading the first few articles on William Morris in the first issue, and it was just the respite I needed from today. It will fill the void well when Work is gone. Happy New Year!
12/31/2015 joseph curran
Thanks for your work and dedication to real value and balance. You always seem to make good connections. Hoping your year will always find "support".
01/02/2016 Bill Kwochka
I have enjoyed your blog for about a year now. Thanks for the stories and insights. Happy New Year.
Comments are closed.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the blog's author and guests and in no way reflect the views of Tools for Working Wood.