At the turn of the twentieth century, Minneapolis became a national center for the arts movement known as Arts and Crafts. The city’s Handicraft Guild led the way. Founded by women, the Handicraft Guild made the arts in Minneapolis more democratic and populist by offering classes like pottery and metalwork to artists and teachers.
The international Arts and Crafts movement revived interest in hand-made arts and crafts. It started in England in the middle of the nineteenth century as an alternative to tedious factory labor brought by the Industrial Revolution. The Arts and Crafts revival valued patience, cooperation, and self-knowledge, and in Minneapolis, it also valued populism and democratic access to the arts.
Minneapolis was one of the first cities in the United States to establish an arts and crafts organization. That organization was the Minneapolis Society for Fine Arts (MSFA), founded in 1883 by a group of artists. Women interested in wood carving formed a related organization, the Chalk and Chisel Club, in 1895. In 1898, the Chalk and Chisel Club held Minneapolis’s first arts and crafts exhibit, which created more interest in the movement. The Arts and Crafts revival appealed primarily to women and men of European descent who were part of Minneapolis’s emerging urban middle class.
Many recognized a need for schoolteachers to gain the skills necessary to teach crafts in public schools, but the MSFA did not have room to offer hands-on workshops. In the fall of 1904, eleven women founded the Handicraft Guild as a Nicollet Avenue showroom for local artists. Soon thereafter, the Guild began offering art classes and workshops for artists and teachers. Thus, the Guild provided more opportunities to those interested in the handicrafts—crafts made by hand with a fine arts sensibility.
The Guild was officially incorporated in 1905. That year, it organized its first of many successful summer school courses. The 1905 summer course was managed by Mary Linton Bookwalter, an interior designer. It was taught and directed by Ernest Batchelder. Batchelder was a renowned tile maker, and his style was marked by beautiful form, rich colors, and few embellishments. Although he left the Guild in 1909, his aesthetic continued to influence the art made by Handicraft Guild members.
As the Guild grew, it required larger spaces. After a stay on Second Avenue in Minneapolis, the Guild moved in 1907 to a new building designed by William Channing Whitney and decorated by Guild members. With the move, the Guild became a center of artistic activity in Minneapolis. The new building at 89-91 Tenth Street South had workshops where artists could improve their methods and design; classrooms and other teaching spaces; studios for individual artists; a showroom; and a large assembly hall that hosted lectures and special exhibits.
In 1918, the Handicraft Guild determined that it was too difficult to manage both the Guild’s building and its art education programs. The Guild was dissolved and absorbed by the new Art Education department at the University of Minnesota. Ruth Raymond, the last president of the Guild, became the chair of the department. She held that position until her retirement thirty years later. The Guild’s building continued to be used by artists for many years after the Guild moved to the University of Minnesota. In 1998, it was designated an Individual Landmark by the Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission.
The Handicraft Guild no longer exists, but it has had lasting effects on the arts and cultural landscape of Minneapolis. Internationally acclaimed Minnesota artist Henrietta Barclay Paist developed a more modern style when she studied with the Handicraft Guild, and painters like Grant Wood were influenced by the Guild’s work. Many houses in Minneapolis still have fireplaces, tiles, and other design elements that were created by Guild members in the early twentieth century. The MSFA, which inspired the Guild and was led by Guild members like Mary Moulton Cheney, eventually became the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
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