Herb Stratford '88 '95 and his wife, Kerry '87, have always admired American Arts and Crafts furniture and interiors. They’re now sharing that passion in “Gustav Stickley: American Craftsman,” a documentary film that chronicles the life and works of Stickley, 1858-1942, considered the father of the American Arts and Crafts movement.
"We loved the furniture and began collecting books and crafts from the period," says Herb, a Tucson film critic with bachelor's and master's degrees in fine arts from the University of Arizona. "We couldn't believe there wasn't a movie or documentary about Stickley, so we pitched a concept and began developing a narrative feature."
The project started as a labor of love for the Stratfords, who met in an art history class. It turned into a cross-country journey with a film crew made up partially of UArizona alumni. In the film, they interview experts and Stickley family members, uncover archival materials and showcase his most iconic works.
The crew visited Stickley's home in Syracuse, New York, where he created his first arts and crafts interior. On the trek to central New York, the film takes viewers to the pump house on Skaneateles Lake, where Stickley restored a summer family camp.
"We met wonderful people who are now our friends. We visited homes of family members, saw private collections and spent weeks every summer over four years shooting the most amazing pieces of Stickley furniture," Herb says. "It was as if we parachuted into this world, were welcomed and felt richer afterwards."
Viewers will learn about Stickley's evolution as a craftsman and furniture manufacturing entrepreneur. His groundbreaking Manhattan store and the Craftsman Magazine he created are featured. Stickley also was a progenitor of the farm-to-table movement, shipping produce from Craftsman Farms in New Jersey to New York City restaurants. The movie details Stickley's business loss and subsequent decline into arts obscurity, followed by posthumous acclaim during the 1960s rebirth of American Arts and Crafts.
According to a 1906 Craftsman Magazine, Stickley furniture was a quest for perfection. The nature of his design and everything it represented was simple and unassuming. He used honest materials and time-tested construction methods. It was said that "craftsmanship is not the mere idea of doing things by hand but the putting of thought, care and individuality into the task of making honestly something that satisfies a real need."
Due to theatre closures, the film was released via virtual cinema on March 5, but it also had a sneak peek screening in Asheville, North Carolina in 2020. It is available for viewing on more than 55 virtual screens in 23 states including the Loft Cinema in Tucson.