Rohlfs & Stickley: A Case of Flowery Inspiration
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