Furniture made of oak with simple lines and minimal embellishment was extremely popular in America during the first quarter of the 20th century. The style was called “mission” because it was based on furniture found in the Franciscan missions in California.
Mission furniture has simple, straight lines and no ornate carving. It usually has squared “marlborough legs” without decorative feet. Chairs often have leather seats and backs consisting of a series of horizontal boards or “stiles”.
The leading exponent of this style of furniture was Gustav Stickley.
Gustav Stickley worked in a furniture manufacturing company owned by his uncle, and then in businesses which he partly owned from 1876. But it was only from 1900 that he began producing what he at first called “New Furniture”. In 1901, he began publishing a magazine, “The Craftsman”, promoting the Arts and Crafts philosophy of good, simple design rater than ornament, and this style of furniture. From this, Stickley’s furniture came to be described as “Craftsman” style.
Although Stickley’s furniture was machine-made, it had a handcrafted look – with visible tenons, exposed joints and the use of pins and pegs rather than nails or glue.
Craftsman style furniture quickly became extremely popular, leading to many imitators. But it went out of fashion just as quickly – causing Gustav Stickley to declare bankruptcy in 1915. Because it was produced for such a short time, Gustav Stickley’s furniture, particularly that produced between 1901 and 1904, can be very rare and expensive.
After Gustav went bankrupt, two of his brothers, Leopold and John George, purchased his factory and continued to produce mission style furniture under the name L & J G Stickley and, later, Stickley Manufacturing Co. The company was purchased in 1974 by Audi & Co which continues to make reproductions and adaptations of Stickley’s designs.