If Mission-style furniture is your thing, look no further than the Stickley brothers and their unique, handcrafted line of furniture.
The Stickley Brothers
Gustav Stickley, the eldest of five brothers and the proud son of first-generation German immigrants, was born in Wisconsin on March 9, 1858. He started to train as a stonemason when he was eleven and started work in his uncle’s chair factory in Pennsylvania when he was seventeen.
Gustav and his brothers Charles and Albert founded the Stickley Brothers Company in Pennsylvania in 1883. After traveling to Europe, Gustav returned home and opened his Craftsman Shop in 1898. This is where he first began experimenting with new and distinct designs.
It wasn’t until around 1900 that their now-renowned Mission style came into being. The brothers released their first line of furniture in 1902 and a second soon after in 1903. Gustav was a firm believer that all homes should have solid furniture made with top-level craftsmanship, something his company excelled at delivering.
Top Notch Designers and Craftsmen
The Stickley brothers wanted nothing but the best for their lines of furniture, and that care started at the very beginning. They worked with top designers and carvers, such as Leopold Baillot and Timothy Conti. They also employed several Russian and Turkish copper artisans, trained by Forrest Mann.
Even the designs of their hardware were carefully thought out, consulting experts as needed to ensure the perfect combination of function and beauty. From 1914 to 1938, the brothers employed James M. Seino as the head of their decorative painting department.
Arthur Teal was another favorite designer, serving from 1908-1911, 1920 to 1924, and again from 1927 to 1936.
Distinction Through Joinery
Stickley furniture stands out in the market. Partly because of their distinguished Mission design, but also because the craftsmanship is without equal. They use tenon joinery and pinned mortise for the majority of their door joints to offer maximum strength and longevity.
Stickley construction is also marked by the use of quadrilinear posts, a technique that lets the ray flake be on full display, a true show of their mastery.
A Look at the Lines
While the Stickley brothers started their empire as producers of fancy tables and chairs, they soon started producing lines of furniture.
1902: The Bewdley Line
- Robertson Smith was responsible for the design of this line. He was influenced by the Scottish and English Arts and Crafts movements. Stylized floral inlays stood in sharp contrast to the rectilinear forms.
1903: The Quaint Mission Line
The brothers didn’t wait long to get a second line of furniture into production, this time using minimal decoration but emphasizing the stunning hand-wrought copper hardware.
Fun Fact: The Stickley brothers entered one of their Mission dining room suites into a contest at the World’s Fair in St. Louis in 1904 and won the grand prize.
1914: The Quaint Manor Line
A follow-up to the Quaint Arts and Crafts line, which ran for nearly ten years, this line focused on caned panels, cutouts, and sleek Austrian lines.
The 1920s: The Quaint American Line
In contrast to some of their simpler early pieces, this line showcased gate-leg tables, Windsor chairs, and case pieces, all inspired by the American Colonial style.
1925: The Adam Colonial and Peasant Lines
Continuing with the momentum of their successful revival-themed lines, the Stickley brothers drew inspiration from 18th-century American and English forms, relying heavily on colonial blue, peacock, and ivory colors. The Peasant line aimed to invoke the feel of central Europe and combined greens and greys with a folk-infused design.
Labels and Marks
While most companies today have a single logo used for everything, the Stickley brothers used a wide range of marks for their furniture. A combination of burned-in marks, paper labels, and brass tags were the most common choices.
One of the most frequently used was the brass tag, designed with their signature “Quaint” Art Nouveau logo. Many of the marks also bore the company name and Grand Rapids, usually in all caps.
Once the company shifted focus to their Quaint lines, the general shape and style of the marks became more uniform, though rarely identical.
The Craftsman Magazine
Gustav Stickley founded this magazine in 1901. Art historian and professor Irene Sargent was a tremendous help, writing almost all of the initial three issues by herself.
This magazine championed the Arts and Crafts movement, sharing architectural designs with the readers and helping the general public understand this movement and its aesthetic.
The last issue of the magazine appeared in December of 1916 before merging with Art World in 1917.
Stickley Furniture Today
Over 90% of all Stickley products and made by artisans in the USA, mainly in New York and North Carolina. They feature many design lines, including:
- Park Slope
- Pasadena Bungalow
The company opened a Stickley Museum in 2007 in New York at the original L & J.G. Stickley factory. An impressive 8,000 square-foot space, the museum features furniture dating back to the start of the company along with a combination of documents and photos showcasing the company’s proud history.