The Gustav Stickley House Foundation recently hosted a fundraising seminar – Gustav Stickley: Reflections on a Legacy; Preservation for the Future – which brought together attendees interested in supporting the restoration of the historic Stickley home on Columbus Avenue in Syracuse. While many of those in attendance were from the Syracuse area, others traveled from Ohio, Connecticut and even Wisconsin.
The event, held at the Onondaga Historical Association on Sept. 23rd, featured a talk by noted Stickley expert David Cathers, who has conducted extensive research on and written several books about Gustav Stickley, as well as the American Arts and Crafts Movement.
“One of the great things about the restoration and preservation of the Columbus Avenue house is the new research now being done by those involved in seeing that house brought back to life, much as it was when the Stickleys lived there, will do so much to increase our understanding and appreciation of Gustav Stickley’s life and his work,” said Cathers.
Gustav Stickley was “the central figure of the American Arts and Crafts Movement,” said Cathers. “After decades of obscurity, his importance has become evident in our day, as it was evident in his.”
Stickley was regarded by many as a visionary even as the first pieces of his American Craftsman designed furniture were introduced to the public. Cathers shared a quote from a 1901 arts magazine article about Stickley: “The opportunities for escaping our commonplace furnishings are few, and craftsmen of Mr. Stickley’s power and individuality are altogether too few among us.”
Cathers, during his talk, shared a sentiment no doubt felt by other Gustav Stickley enthusiasts. “The restoration and renewal of the Columbus Avenue house, and also the rebirth of Craftsman Farms – seems almost like a dream to me.”
Also giving a presentation was Vonda K. Givens, executive director of the Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms in Morris Plains, N.J., which is designated as a National Historical Landmark. Gustav Stickley built Craftsman Farms in 1911 and lived there with his wife and children after he moved his business and sales offices to New York City. Givens shared photos and information about the ongoing efforts to restore the several buildings at the museum and to expand educational programs.
Cynthia McGinn, a great-granddaughter of Gustav Stickley, and a board member of the Gustav Stickley House Foundation was one of several descendants of Gustav Stickley at the event. She introduced a film trailer about Gustav Stickley that is currently under production by Herb Stratford. Expected to be completed in 2018, the documentary Gustav Stickley: American Craftsman will include a section on the history and restoration of the Columbus Avenue house.
Ted Bartlett, architectural historian for Crawford & Stearns Architects and Preservation Planners of Syracuse which is overseeing Phase One of the restoration, provided an update about the ongoing work on the house.
Bartlett noted how meticulously the house is being examined to insure that it is restored as closely as possible to the way it looked when Stickley lived there. “Preservation is history you can touch,” he said. For instance, a paint analyst microscopically examined over 30 paint samples of exterior paint layers to determine the colors Stickley chose for his home. Other original features of the home have also been uncovered during the construction phase such as original stones and columns that were part of a large front porch that had been removed over 50 years ago. Attendees also learned that Gustav Stickley, whose furniture was known for its rich stains, also experimented with painted finishes. Close inspection of the house shows that Stickley may have experimented with a blue paint in the Inglenook area. Here two window sills have paint in a similar shade of “chromewald” blue that is found on some late period Gustav Stickley furniture. Further testing will give a better indication if it is in fact the same paint.
Bartlett also reported that the 1901 Christmas Eve fire, thought to likely have started in the wall at the front chimney, did more extensive damage than previously realized. He brought along a charred piece of exterior sheathing board believed to be from the fire for attendees to see. The damage caused by the fire led Stickley to redesign much of the home’s interior in his American Craftsman style, the first fully realized Craftsman domestic interior in the United States.
Bartlett mentioned how fortunate it is that subsequent owners of the house did not paint over any of the original stained chestnut paneling, built-ins, trim work and window seats on the first floor. That interior design remains essentially the same today on the first floor and second floor of the three-story home.
David Rudd, president of the Gustav Stickley House Foundation, spoke about the history of the original Gustav Stickley settle – a high-backed wooden bench – that was designed for the Columbus Avenue house during renovations after the 1901 fire. The settle changed hands over the years after Stickley’s grandson discovered it on the curb on Columbus Avenue after the house left Stickley family ownership. The settle was eventually given to The Museum at Craftsman Farms, and is currently on loan to the OHA.
The seminar closed with a presentation by Grant Johnson, vice president of the Gustav Stickley House Foundation, as well as president of the Preservation Association of Central New and president of the Westcott Neighborhood Association. He stated, “The interest in the symposium reflects the passion that is held by so many people for the life and work of Gustav Stickley, which is also exemplified by the collaborative efforts of the numerous organizations involved in the ongoing restoration of the Gustav Stickley House.” The project, said Johnson, “is a model that is instructive for future historic preservation efforts in the city of Syracuse and beyond.”
The Gustav Stickley House Foundation would like to thank its event sponsors and partners including The Arts & Crafts Society of Central New York, The University Neighborhood Preservation Association, Crawford & Stearns Architects and Preservation Planners, Freedom of Espresso and PostNet printing services.
By Patricia Rycraft O’Toole