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First Museum Dedicated to American Arts and Crafts Movement Opens in Florida

Proponents of the artistic philosophy pushed back against industrial production and embraced handcraftsmanship

Livia Gershon
Daily Correspondent
September 7, 2021

Frederick Hurten Rhead, panel for overmantel, 1910 Two Red Roses Foundation

The world’s only museum dedicated to the late 19th- and early 20th-century American Arts and Crafts movement opened today in St. Petersburg, Florida. Fittingly named the Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement (MAACM), the venue celebrates a creative philosophy that embraced fine artisanship and rejected the impersonal nature of industrialization.

As Maggie Duffy reports for the Tampa Bay Times, the museum is the brainchild of Rudy Ciccarello, a local businessman, philanthropist and collector. In addition to the 800 or so items in its permanent collection, the cultural institution displays items from the Two Red Roses Foundation—Ciccarello’s private collection of Arts and Crafts objects.

“This museum will be the epicenter for the study of the American Arts and Crafts movement,” says Ciccarello in a statement. “Our mission is to preserve and share these beautiful works of art with the public and to teach future generations to appreciate hand craftsmanship and honest design.”

Designed by Albert Alfonso of Tampa-based Alfonso Architects, the 5-story, 137,000-square-foot museum features a grand atrium, skylights and a spiral staircase. Along with gallery space, a theater and a reference library, the museum contains a restaurant, a theater, a cafe, an outdoor garden, an event space and a graphic studio. The design features period elements such as tiles, fountains, windows and lights.

The museum showcases design elements like tiles and light fixtures. Joe Brennan / MAACM

The building “is inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement in its detailing and customization of material and joinery,” says Alfonso in a statement quoted by the Art Newspaper’s Wallace Ludel. “[It] will serve the collection in its presentation of precious objects in a modern, functional and didactic way. The spaces will embrace natural light and respond to the different scales of the objects they hold.”

Ciccarello bought the land for the museum in 2014. It was originally slated to open in 2016, but the project hit delays along the way, and construction only began in 2017, reports Matt Hickman for the Architect’s Newspaper. The opening was further delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Now, despite continuing high levels of Covid-19 transmission in Florida, most cultural institutions are open. MAACM, for its part, is implementing health and safety precautions as it welcomes its first visitors.

The museum’s collection (including loans from Two Red Roses) contains more than 2,000 objects, including furniture, pottery, woodblocks and leaded glass. About 800 works will be on display at any time, along with temporary exhibitions, notes the Art Newspaper.

Two opening exhibitions are on display now through January 9, 2022. “Love, Labor, and Art: The Roycroft Enterprise” explores a craft school founded by writer and philosopher Elbert Hubbard in the 1890s in upstate New York. “Lenses Embracing the Beautiful: Pictorial Photographs From the Two Red Roses Foundation” collects work made by amateur photographers between the 1890s and the 1940s.

The museum stands five stories tall and features a grand atrium, theater and restaurant. Joe Brennan / MAACM

The Arts and Crafts movement began in late Victorian England, where anxieties about increasing industrialization prompted a resurgence of interest in handcraftsmanship, wrote design historian and curator Monica Obniski for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2008.

The movement spread to the United States in the late 19th century, with artists in Boston forming the Society of Arts and Crafts in 1897. Chicago’s Arts and Crafts Society began that same year at Hull House, the pioneering settlement house for immigrants founded by social reformers Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr. The decentralized movement also spawned societies in other cities, as well as social experiments such as the Rose Valley artistic community in Pennsylvania.

According to Two Red Roses, the American iteration of the movement “was more a philosophy of living … than a distinct aesthetic style.” Its principal tenets were “a simple lifestyle, the use of quality, natural materials in handcraft, and an independent spirit in design and construction.”

Proponents of Arts and Crafts advocated for more widespread involvement in the design and creation of artistic objects. Many local societies organized workshops that encouraged young women to design and make pottery, jewelry and textiles. Publications such as House Beautiful and Ladies’ Home Journal spread the movement’s ideas about interior design broadly.

MAACM will be open to guests Tuesdays through Sundays. Its website features a video introduction to the museum.