Rohlfs & Stickley: A Case of Flowery Inspiration

rohlfs and stickley

Rohlfs floriform side table (left: pictured at liveauctioneers.com) likely influenced Stickley’s poppy table design (right: reproduced by Bob Lang).

Darrell Peart raised an interesting questions during my recent web seminar on “Unkown Arts & Crafts” for Popular Woodworking University. He noted the similarities between one of Rohlfs’ tables and the poppy table by Gustav Stickley and asked if one maker influenced the other. Both tables share a similar form — trunk-like slab legs support a flower-shaped top — executed in an Art Nouveau style, which suggests the possibility for some influence or borrowing between makers.

I didn’t have an answer then, so I did some additional research. The poppy table dates to 1900 and Stickley’s “New Work” catalog, which falls during Rohlfs’ active decade of production (1897-1907). Stickley’s furniture line at this time actually features three floral tables — the poppy, celandine and foxglove — that share similar forms and Art Nouveau styling. But I couldn’t find an accurate date for Rohlfs’ table. Additional digging did yield a similar design by Rohlfs (pictured in a Rohlfs exhibition at the Met here) dated c. 1888. Given their geographic proximity (they even exhibited across from each other in the 1901 Pan-Am Exposition in Buffalo, N.Y.) and commercial activities, it seems likely the two makers knew each others’ work. That familiarity and the earlier date of Rohlfs’ table suggest Rohlfs influenced Stickley’s three floriform tables.

I find Stickley’s use of plugged screws to join the table legs to the base instead of keyed through tenons Rohlfs used a little ironic; it’s a rare example of Stickley using an inferior construction technique to Rohlfs.

— Michael Crow

p.s. Michael’s “Unknown Arts & Crafts” seminar will be available as a download soon at ShopWoodworking.com. When it goes live, I’ll update this space. — Megan Fitzpatrick

4 thoughts on “Rohlfs & Stickley: A Case of Flowery Inspiration

  1. Darrell PeartDarrell Peart

    Michael – Fascinating stuff! I was unaware of the Rohlf’s table before your presentation. Thanks for doing the research.

  2. Michael Crow Post author

    Sorry if those dates seem misleading. Rohlfs was commercially active c. 1897-1907, but he was building furniture for his home before 1897. The table dated c. 1888 is from that period. Too, I only mention the Pan-American Exhibition to suggest the small world that was furniture design and manufacturing at the turn of the twentieth century. Makers had the chance to interact and see each others’ work at exhibitions and trade shows and in magazines like The Grand Rapids Furniture Record, The Studio, House Beautiful, Ladies’ Home Journal and Stickley’s own The Craftsman.

    And I think Tesla was too busy building teleportation devices to be causing time warps . . .

  3. Robert W. Lang

    Not at all sure how the math works here. Stickley and Rohlfs are across from each other at a trade show in 1901, and that means Rohlfs influenced Stickley’s design that appeared a year earlier. Equally curious is dating a piece nine years before Rohlfs began building furniture. Perhaps Tesla caused some sort of a time warp in western New York at the turn of the 20th century.

    Bob Lang

    1. Jeff Ward

      The time machine is available via a little research. In The Artistic Furniture of Charles Rohlfs, Joseph Cunningham observes:

      Exact correspondence cannot be established between Rohlfs trefoil table and Table with Scroll Decorations and the various models of Stickley’s “tabourettes,” “tables,” and “tea-tables” all named for the flower by which they were inspired. Nevertheless, Rohlfs’s early small tables can be shown to have profoundly influenced the development of Stickley’s earliest furniture designs. The imprint of Rohlfs’s works on the Stickley designs was covered in “The New Things in Design” in Furniture Journal on 25 August 1900: “It is not possible to reproduce in these pages the quaint things that have come from Mr. Rohlfs’ factory, although some of the things which were shown by the Gustave Stickley company have been shown in these pages. There are suggestions all through the
      Stickley line of the things made by Rohlfs. It is stated that Mr. Stickley got his first idea from the Rohlf [sic] furniture, but let it be said that to his credit that in adapting to practical production in a factory such as he commands, he added materially to the merit of the furniture.” It seems likely that the “first idea” mentioned here refers to the particularly Rohlfsian table form, the Bellworth Tabourette No 1, in Stickley’s 1900 ‘Catalog No 1 ‘New Furniture'” (42).

      I haven’t looked up that issue of Furniture Journal, but it seems to me that the argument for influence is pretty solid.

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