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Armchair

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Armchair

Manufacturer: Joseph P. McHugh & Company (active New York, New York, 1878-1920)

Designer: Walter J.H. Dudley (American )

Date: 1896-1910
Medium: White ash, rush, and green stain
Dimensions:
Overall: 36 1/8 x 24 1/8 x 18 3/4in. (91.8 x 61.3 x 47.6cm)
Credit Line: Museum Purchase with funds from the Mrs. Erving Pruyn Fund
Object number: 90.55
Label Text
Joseph P. McHugh, self-proclaimed originator of "mission"-style furniture, helped bring the Arts and Crafts alternative to an American mass market. Although overshadowed by more prominent individuals such as Gustav Stickley, McHugh was the first American manufacturer of affordable Arts and Crafts goods. This armchair is an example of one of his earliest mission forms. The mortise and tenon construction, simple lines, and use of natural materials conform to the dicta of the Arts and Crafts Movement. The original green stain, which does not obscure the wood grain, was one of the colors McHugh aggressively promoted as "foremost in favor as a color effect."

ATD

Text Entries
The entrepreneurial disposition and business acumen of Joseph P. McHugh (1854-1916), self-proclaimed originator of "mission"-style furniture, helped bring the arts and crafts alternative to an American mass market.(1) Launched by British reformers such as John Ruskin (1819-1900) and William Morris (1834-96), the arts and crafts movement was a reform initiative that encompassed an entire philosophy of interior design. In a reaction to industrialization and to the poor quality of mass-produced goods, proponents of the movement advocated handcraftsmanship, the use of natural materials, and construction in which joints plainly showed. The arts and crafts movement influenced American design from the last quarter of the nineteenth century through the 1920s. In the United States, unlike in England, production of arts and crafts-style furniture was commercially successful because many manufacturers adapted the style without subscribing to the ideology of the movement.

Although overshadowed by more prominent individuals such as Gustav Stickley, Joseph P. McHugh was the first American manufacturer of affordable arts and crafts goods. McHugh's intense marketing of the movement's concepts and the encyclopedic range of his mission furniture forms helped set standards for consumers of American arts and crafts objects.  Differing from his English counterparts, it was McHugh's business sense, rather than doctrine, that motivated his involvement in the arts and crafts market.

McHugh began his career working for his father Patrick in the late 1870s and opened his own shop in 1882. In 1884 he located his business, The Popular Shop, at 42nd Street and 5th Avenue in New York City, where it remained until the 1920s. McHugh's holistic approach to interiors led him to expand the shop's stock from window shades and dry goods to all kinds of interior fittings and to include the production and marketing of three furniture lines-mission, willow, and colonial revival.

McHugh's most popular furniture line was the mission style he began to produce between 1894 and 1897. The first forms h e offered-settee , armchair, and side chair-were based on simple rush-seated chairs made for  the  Swedenborgian  sect's  Church  of  the  New Jerusalem (completed  in  1895) in  San Francisco.

McHugh christened his straight forms "mission," alluding to the region where the design concept originated. Subsequent pieces were the creations of the firm's chief designer, Walter J. H. Dudley (1862-1947). McHugh's marketing strategy was so successful that the trade soon began to speak of mission furniture as a distinct style and adopted the name as a generic term to embrace all arts and crafts furniture. Extensive marketing, accompanied by the rhetoric of the arts and crafts movement, achieved international recognition and acclaim for McHugh mission furniture and contributed to the acceptance of the arts and crafts vogue among middle-class Americans.

The MWPI armchair is an example of one of the first mission forms McHugh produced. The mortise and tenon construction, simple lines, and use of natural materials conform to the dicta of the arts and crafts movement. The massive proportions, rectilinearity, and stylized shape of the feet illustrate Walter Dudley's reliance on English precedents, such as the work of Arthur Heygate Mackmurdo (1851-1942). Although McHugh deliberately cultivated the aesthetic sanctioned by reformers, he readily used machines (as his competition did) to produce affordable furniture lines. McHugh, however, advertised his work as handcrafted, which most likely referred only to the application of the seating materials and finish.

McHugh's marketing intuitiveness, expressed in his promotion of cohesive interior decoration, inspired the company's range of furniture finishes and seating materials. His mission furniture could be purchased with a stained or painted finish, including "Toa" brown, weathered gray, and plain varnish. More adventuresome clients could choose from "a dainty willow-green ... sealing wax red with black markings and a smoked black with grain brought out in deep brown."(2) The original forest green finish of the MWPI chair was one of the colors McHugh aggressively promoted and advertised as "foremost in favor as a color effect" for interiors, paneling, and furniture. The finish provides a warm hue without obscuring the natural wood grain.


Essay by Anna Tobin D'Ambrosio


1. See Anna Tobin D 'Ambrosio and Leslie Greene Bowman, "The Distinction of Being Different ": Joseph P. McHugh and the American Arts and Crafts Movement (Utica, N.Y.:  Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute Museum of Art, 1993).

2. "The Mission Furniture: Its Design and Execution," The Upholstery Dealer and Decorative Furnisher 1 (October 1901): 52.



 

 

McHugh’s marketing acumen no doubt inspired the company’s spectrum of furniture finishes, which expressed McHugh’s concern with cohesive interiors. Few manufactures offered as broad a spectrum of colors as McHugh. His conservative palette of stained or painted finishes included “Toa” brown, weathered gray , and a plain varnish. Adventuresome customers could choose from “a dainty willow-green, … sealing wax red with black markings and a smoked black with the grain brought out in deep brown.” (4)

The forest green of the armchair was one of the company’s most aggressively promoted colors, advertised as “foremost in favor as a color effect” for interiors, paneling and furniture.(5) Many of McHugh’s forest green products survive. Some retain a transparent stain that permits the wood grain to be visible; others, including this armchair, feature a heavier, applied finish that more closely resembles a painted surface.

 

4. “The Mission Furniture: Its Designs and Execution,” 52.

5. “Beautiful Color Schemes,” Some Pictures of Quaint Things, 1.