‘Skilled Hands, High Ideals’ Up At Historic Deerfield

Photo: Penny Leveritt

Wrought iron candlesticks by Cornelius Kelley, circa 1930; courtesy of Memorial Hall Museum, Deerfield.

DEERFIELD MASS. — Memorial Hall Museum’s exhibition “Skilled Hands and High Ideals: The Arts and Crafts Movement in Deerfield” features more than 175 artistic crafts made in Deerfield between 1896 and 1950. By 1900, Deerfield crafts — embroidery, weaving, netting, metalwork, furniture, pottery, basketry, decorative painting and photography — transformed this western Massachusetts farming village into one of the nation’s leading crafts centers. The exhibition is on view through October 31.

Inspired by the international Arts and Crafts movement and the venerable collections at Memorial Hall Museum, a group of visionary women worked alongside their neighbors to learn crafts, set up shops in their front parlors and exhibit their work locally and nationally.

“Deerfield’s fabled history and rural surroundings,” said Suzanne Flynt, curator, Memorial Hall Museum, “created an ideal environment for the Arts and Crafts, a movement that encouraged a return to hand craftsmanship, simplicity of design and honesty of materials.” In 1896, the Deerfield Society of Blue and White Needlework was formed, followed in 1901 by the founding of the Deerfield Society of Arts and Crafts (changed to Deerfield Industries in 1906). Organized craftwork continued to be produced in Deerfield until the mid-Twentieth Century.

The exhibition traces historic and artistic themes though choice examples of crafts, personal stories about the craftswomen and men, period photographs by Frances and Mary Allen of the crafters and their crafts, and examples of craft processes. The exhibition title is from George Walsh’s House Beautiful, June 1904 article “Deerfield’s Craftswomen” — “With strong brains and skilled hands, and high ideals, the citizens of Deerfield are proving to the world that New England has not yet lost the qualities which first made it the home of sturdy independence and liberty.”

“Skilled Hands and High Ideals” is an exhibition of artistic crafts featuring embroideries by the Deerfield Society of Blue and White Needlework 1896–1926; metalwork, furniture, basketry, weaving, netting and tufted work, and photography by the Society of Deerfield Industries 1901–1921; and Deerfield Crafts 1921–1950.

It is unlikely that any other craft center in America was as well documented as Deerfield. To show how the Arts and Crafts movement changed old Deerfield, the installation includes enlarged graphics of two maps dating from 1911 and 1924 identifying the locations of craft activities along Deerfield’s mile-long street.

Memorial Hall Museum’s exhibition “Skilled Hands: The Arts and Crafts Movement in Deerfield” is accompanied by the publication Poetry to the Earth, written by Suzanne Flynt with a foreword by Wendy Kaplan.

An accompanying website, The Arts & Crafts Moment in Deerfield, is at www.artscrafts-deerfield.org.

The museum is at 8 Memorial Street. For more information, 413-774-7476, extension 10.

Ellen Miller, “Rabbits in the Pea Patch,” 1907; courtesy of Memorial Hall Museum, Deerfield.

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