University at Buffalo - The State University of New York
Skip to Content
UBNow

News and views for UB faculty and staff

Campus News

Conference to focus on Buffalo as capital of American arts and crafts movement

Among Buffalo’s great standing examples of the American arts and crafts movement is the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Greycliff in the Town of Evans. Photo: Douglas Levere

By BERT GAMBINI

Published October 16, 2017

“This city produced what is perhaps the defining group of arts and crafts artists and they were determinative for the direction of the American arts and crafts movement.”
Jonathan Katz, associate professor of art and organizer
Frank Lloyd Wright and the Buffalo School: An International Arts and Crafts Conference

Jack Quinan, SUNY Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus and a noted expert on Frank Lloyd Wright, will deliver the keynote address for a groundbreaking three-day conference that directs long overdue attention to Buffalo as the epicenter of the American arts and crafts movement.

Quinan’s lecture, “The Larkin Building and Wright’s Oeuvre,” takes place at 6 p.m. Oct. 20 at the Roycroft Campus in East Aurora. It opens the conference, titled “Frank Lloyd Wright and the Buffalo School: An International Arts and Crafts Conference,” which will run Oct. 20-22.

Buffalo’s role as the creative center for design, production and innovation in American arts and crafts is widely acknowledged by specialists in the field, but little known across the country — including in Buffalo itself, according to UB associate professor Jonathan Katz, the conference organizer and director of the university’s doctoral program in visual studies.

While other cities with a fraction of the movement’s examples stage annual arts and crafts celebrations, Buffalo has tended to be quiet about its place in history, but as the city begins to flower again, Katz sees a renewed awareness and excitement to discuss and applaud Buffalo’s illustrious past.

“We want to make clear that there was something called a ‘Buffalo School,’” says Katz. “This city produced what is perhaps the defining group of arts and crafts artists and they were determinative for the direction of the American arts and crafts movement.”

Buses will leave from the front of Hayes Hall on UB’s South Campus every half-hour from 4-5 p.m. to provide roundtrip transportation to and from the Roycroft for guests wanting to attend Friday’s lecture.

There is an $80 registration fee for the entire conference.  Guests can register online. There are no fees for UB faculty, staff and students, but email registration is required at artsandcraftswny@gmail.com.

After Quinan’s keynote and a reception, all subsequent conference sessions on Oct. 21 and 22 will take place at Hayes Hall.

A complete schedule of conference presentations and speakers is available online.

Katz says the European arts and crafts movement embraced a nostalgic handcraft aesthetic that artists in the U.S. rejected. The American variant of arts and crafts was forward-looking, in creative contrast to Great Britain’s more sentimental response to the Industrial Revolution.

For the Americans, looking forward was not just about the new technology, but also harnessing its power to new ends. Technology drove artists’ sensibility which, in turn, transformed creativity, commerce and manufacturing into unprecedented designs in residential architecture, furniture and decorative arts.

Buffalo’s great standing examples of the movement include the Darwin Martin House, the Roycroft Campus and Louis Sullivan’s Guaranty Building. Even demolished buildings loom large: Wright’s groundbreaking Larkin Administration Building is the subject of an innovative exhibition now on view in Hayes Hall. In addition to the region’s arts and crafts assets, Katz says Buffalo was also home to a number of resident geniuses from the period, like Charles Rohlfs, perhaps the greatest furniture designer America ever produced, yet still not a widely recognized historical figure.

“His major works generally crest around a quarter of a million dollars on the art market, yet there’s nothing to suggest his history here,” says Katz. “There’s no plaque on what was his Allentown home.

“We will discuss artists like Rohlfs at this conference, and Adelaide Alsop Robineau, who is acknowledged as America’s greatest potter, and other key figures who defined the aesthetic in the United States.”

Katz says Buffalo in particular was helpful to these artists and developed as a creative core in part due to its wealth and the fact that the city’s patrons were intensely interested in the future and its associated possibilities.

“There was a progressive attitude in Buffalo,” says Katz. “The idea here was, ‘What’s the next thing going to be?’”

Buffalo also had a strong industrial base, so designers using industrial processes could easily find skilled workers.

“The last component is that there were a couple of key personalities in town who were the nuclei around which so much developed,” says Katz. “Darwin Martin, who got Wright to build the Larkin building and later to design his home. And Elbert Hubbard who was key to the success of the Larkin Company and then key to the development of the Roycroft Campus.

“They knew how to spot other talent and were charismatic figures who were able to bring like-minded people together,” he says. “These combined to make Buffalo very powerful.”