Gustav Stickley III was only 11 years old when his famous grandfather passed away in 1942. Yet he still remembers the valuable lessons he learned as a young boy from Gustav Stickley.
One of the lessons that stands out most for Stickley, now 85, is how his grandfather instilled in him a strong work ethic.
“He respected people who worked, who worked hard and did good jobs at what they did,” said Stickley, who lives in Red Hook, NY, near Poughkeepsie.
Another fond memory of his grandfather is that of watching Gustav Stickley working with wood and talking about wood.
“Grandfather was a quiet man,” said Stickley. “But if you were interested in working with wood, he would spend all the time he had talking with you. He would very fully answer any question that you had.”
And though some of those answers were full of details beyond the understanding of a young boy, Stickley listened and respected his grandfather’s passion for the beauty and strength of quality wood.
“I used to watch him draw his hand across a piece of wood and you could see the reverence in the hand,” he said. “That’s where I learned my love of wood and the feel of it when it has been properly preserved.”
Most of the time that Stickley spent with his grandfather was at the home of his own parents, Gustav Stickley II and his wife Gladys, on Park Avenue in Rochester. His grandfather would visit often, staying with them in the wintertime.
His grandfather often worked with wood in their home’s basement, experimenting with finishing processes.
Stickley also has memories of visiting the Stickley family home at 438 Columbus Ave., in Syracuse. At that time, Gustav Stickley lived at the house with his daughter, Barbara, and her husband, Ben Wiles (who then owned the house), and their children. Their son, Ben, who is now 100 years old, still lives in the Syracuse area.
Gustav Stickley would often travel between his childrens’ homes in Syracuse and Rochester. Gustav Stickley III frequently visited the Columbus Avenue house when his father drove his grandfather back to Syracuse after his visits to Rochester.
Stickley remembers one of his favorite things to do at the house was to hide in the large Craftsman sideboard in the dining room, which Gustav Stickley designed for his home in 1902.
Little did the young boy know that his favorite hiding place would become a historic piece of furniture and one of his grandfather’s best-known pieces today. In 1988, the same sideboard broke the record for the highest price paid for an Arts & Crafts period furniture piece when Barbra Streisand purchased it at Christie’s New York auction house for $363,000. Streisand sold the Columbus Avenue Sideboard at Christie’s in 1999 for $540,000.
Stickley also remembers eating dinner with family members at the Craftsman leather-topped table. While the adults visited, Stickley would spend time with his cousin, Peter Wiles, who was close to his age. “Peter was like a brother to me,” said Stickley. “We enjoyed talking about things that interested us, and often that was Grandfather.”
To this day, Stickley has a special keepsake of his grandfather’s, a bamboo cane that the family believes was at the Columbus Avenue house the night of the 1901 Christmas Eve fire. “It is scorched,” said Stickley. It seems that Gustav Stickley left the cane behind on his last visit to Rochester.
“Grandfather could have afforded a much more expensive cane but when you considered how he believed that what the good earth offered us for little or no cost, is it of any surprise that he would have chosen an item that, for all we know he could have grown and made the cane at the farm himself?,” said Stickley.
Now a family heirloom, the cane – which is still usable today – was given to Stickley by his mother, Gladys, who passed away at age 96 in 1996.
Stickley’s father, Gustav Stickley II, passed away at age 49 in 1943, the year following Gustav Stickley’s death.
Stickley recalls how hard-working both of his parents were. For years, they ran a business out of their home baking and selling chicken pot pies made from scratch. The business grew to the point that they were delivering pot pies to small grocery stores within a 100-mile radius of Rochester.
Stickley and his only sibling, twin sister Eda Ann, who now lives in Maryland, would help in the preparation of the pies. Their father made deliveries, eventually hiring a second driver as business continued to grow but his health was failing.
The pot pies were made and delivered in dishes that required a small deposit so they would be returned. “I had to clean them all when they came back,” said Stickley.
The pot pie business began to suffer when war came. His father took on other jobs until he passed away of heart problems.
“My mother devoted her life to taking care of her children and got jobs wherever she could,” said Stickley. His mother worked at the Rochester Telephone Company in the directory department for years, adding and removing names and phone numbers from the phone book.
Following the example set by his grandfather and his parents, Stickley was a hard worker from a young age. Along with helping with the chicken pot pie business, he also always had a paper route.
He eventually took a job at Grange League Federation, which would become Agway, in its egg distribution department in Weedsport. While with the company, he was transferred several times while working his way up to a management position. He and his wife, Catherine Ann, had eight children. They carried on family tradition, naming a son Gustav Stickley IV, who has a son, Gustav Stickley V.
Stickley developed a passion for cooking, so he eventually entered the restaurant business, at times owning a restaurant and as a caterer. He was then offered a job teaching at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, from where he retired after 22 years.
At one point, he tried his hand at making reproductions of his grandfather’s American Craftsman furniture. While he found he certainly had the talent, he discovered that making a quality piece of furniture by hand was so labor-intensive and time-consuming he wasn’t making enough money at it.
Gustav Stickley III recently visited the house on Columbus Avenue house, attending last month’s Renovation Kickoff event.
“When I went into the house I couldn’t help but think of my father,” said Stickley, remembering how he enjoyed his trips there with him.
While in Syracuse, Stickley visited his cousin, Ben Wiles. “He is still getting around very well at 100 years old,” said Stickley. “Of course, he wanted to know how the house was.” Ben Wiles grew up in the Columbus Avenue house, living there until his marriage. Ben has lived in only one other home, said Stickley, the house that his parents gave him as a wedding gift.
Stickley takes great pride in his family history.
“I am so proud that I have the heritage of my grandfather,” said Stickley. “He had so much to do with our way of living – making it more comfortable and more appreciative. He certainly was way ahead of his time.
“It’s so pleasing to see the recognition he is receiving today,” said Stickley. “I wish so much he could be enjoying today. He earned it.”
The family resemblance Stickley bears to his grandfather is unmistakable. Stickley has a hand-drawn sketch of his grandfather at his home, which reminds him of that. “I look at it and I realize I do look like him,” he said. “It could be me anytime.” Stickley also took to wearing bow ties like his grandfather did, which only enhances the likeness.
Gustav Stickley’s children have also carried on the heritage in other ways. For example, Gustav Stickley II had spent some time working at Craftsman Farms in Parsippany-Troy Hill, N.J., which had been the family home when Gustav Stickley moved his business and sales office to New York City. Following in his footstep years later, one of Stickley III’s sons, Thomas, worked there as a tour guide, after the property became The Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms.
Stickley says he enjoys when people recognize his name and ask if he is related to his well-known grandfather. “It’s fun,” he said.
“I got the best thing that anybody got from Gustav Stickley,” said Stickley. “I got his name.”
By Patricia Rycraft O’Toole