Roycroft was the name given to a reformist community of crafters and artisans founded by Elbert Hubbard (pictured) in East Aurora, New York in 1894. The Roycrofters, as members of the community were called, consisted of some of the most skilled bookbinders, furniture makers and metal workers of the American Arts & Crafts Movement, including Karl Kipp, Frederick Kranz and William Wallace Denslow.
Elbert Hubbard was a successful salesman and part owner of Buffalo, NY-based Larkin Soap Company. Although the company had made him quite wealthy, Hubbard eventually lost interest in the soap industry, sold his share in the company and retired to East Aurora.
A man of many interests, Hubbard became infatuated with the polymathic ideals of the British Arts & Crafts movement and traveled to England to meet the pioneer of the movement, William Morris. Rebelling against the dehumanizing effects of the industrial age, Arts & Crafts designers like Morris championed handcraftsmanship and the integration of the arts in a decorative environment. Hubbard was so inspired by his visit that upon his return to East Aurora he founded a private printing shop to publish a magazine he dubbed The Philistine, which extolled the virtues of Arts & Crafts ideals. The Philistine became wildly popular, leading to the establishment of a nearby book bindery. A leather shop, metalsmith and furniture shop soon followed, each one bringing still more artisans and their families into the folds of the growing Roycroft community.
The exceptional quality and craftsmanship presented in Roycroft designs, coupled with Elbert Hubbard’s acute business savvy, made the community one of the most successful and influential enterprises of the American Arts & Crafts movement. Hubbard advertised Roycroft handicrafts in several publications and magazines and personally wrote all of the advertising copy, which emphasized the Roycroft philosophy as much as the quality and affordability of its products.
Roycrofters produced a broad array of goods, from leather bound books and woodblock prints to metalwork lamps and substantial wooden furniture. While widely varied in form, function and presentation, all Roycroft products adhered strictly to the predominant aesthetics of Arts & Crafts design, featuring rigorously simple but sophisticated construction and stylized ornamentation inspired by medieval, romantic and folk traditions.
The Roycroft community continued to produce fine handicrafts of growing popularity until the untimely death of Hubbard and his wife, suffragist Alice Moore Hubbard, in the sinking of the RMS Lusitania in 1915. Control of the company passed to their son, Bert Hubbard, who sought to expand the distribution of Roycroft goods through major retailers. Despite these efforts, the company fell into a gradual but steady decline. Unable to weather the one-two punch of waning public interest and the Great Depression, the company shut down production for good in 1938.
Today, furniture and decorative objects made by Roycroft can be found in the collections of the Brooklyn Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and the Elbert Hubbard Roycroft Museum in East Aurora.
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Dining table from Emerson Hall, Roycroft Campus, East Aurora