Art in Every Day Life: Harriet and Vetta Goldstein
Although their names aren't as well-known as William Morris, John Ruskin, and Gustav Stickley, Harriet and Vetta Goldstein were allies in the fight for design reform.
Namesakes of the Goldstein Museum of Design, sisters Harriet and Vetta were teachers in the Home Economics department at the University of Minnesota. Their contribution to the Arts and Crafts movement, a book titled Art in Every Day Life, was published in 1925. Its aim was to teach students of "house design and decoration, store decoration, costume design, advertising, and city planning" the principles of good design in order to better appreciate and judge designed objects. Beginning with a chapter on "The Importance of Good Taste," the book emphasizes the relationship between beauty and good design, echoing many of the basic tenets of the Arts and Crafts movement.
For example, where William Morris famously said:
"Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful,"
the Goldstein sisters explained:
"When beauty is expressed in our surroundings, it becomes a part of our life and our personality. It is not a thing to be set apart for occasional enjoyment, but should be sought in everything we do, and in everything we select."
A number of requirements determine good design. An object must be:
made from and decorated with materials appropriate to its end use
For illustration, the sisters presented two examples. The first, a Rookwood vase closely resembling this one, was considered good design "because it has pleasing proportions, simplicity of line, and is suitable for its use." The second example, the fly swatter on the right, was considered bad design because the decoration is inconsistent with its use, rendering the object "manifestly absurd."
(left) Rookwood Pottery, vase, 1936, earthenware. Museum Purchase, 1996.000.021 (right) Unknown maker, decorated fly swatter, c. 1925, plastic, wool. Gift of Harriet and Vetta Goldstein, not accessioned
Recognizing that most people were not in the situation to pick and choose their belongings with impunity, the Goldsteins dedicated a chapter to "Making the Best of One's Possessions." For those of us "forced to compromise, and... make the best of what we have," here are the Goldsteins' three remedies for "'decorative mishaps' that may have occurred through inheritance or because of unwise purchases."
Each object in a room should be judged practically. If it does not add to the beauty or to the comfort of the room it should be discarded. Even after this has been done there may be too many things for the size of the room. This will require an additional sifting out.
Order is the first requirement for beauty.
After all the unessentials have been eliminated and the room has been well arranged, some unsightly objects, necessary for comfort, may remain. Then the problem of hiding their deficiencies is met.
Sounds like the advice offered by many a show on the DIY Network and HGTV, does it not?
by Natasha Thoreson
This is the first in a series of blogs celebrating the Arts and Crafts movement, as represented in the collections at the Goldstein Museum of Design.