By Nancy. J. Parisi
“Art is man’s expression of his joy in labor.”
- William Morris
“One machine can do the work of fifty ordinary men. No machine can do the work of one extraordinary man.”
- Elbert Hubbard
Public reaction to the launching of e-books a while back was that of mild fear: that the perusal of text via liquid crystal display on handheld devices would mean the gradual extinction of printed matter of all genres. Pulp-free reading material would mean, certainly, that trees would be spared, but what of the lost art of turning or dog-earing pages, of writing in captions...and also the creation of artist-made books?
The ceiling of the Buffalo Common Council
Chambers, restored by Giuliano & Patricia Deganis.
Photo by G. Deganis.
Just as this anti-technological story hit broadcastand printedmedia, others quickly pointed out that the craft of printing, even on virtual paper, would always be in demand. And this technology-versus-tradition scenario played out in the advent of digital imaging: would film-free photography mean that darkroom procedures would become a lost art or would both means of representing the world for journalistic or artistic ends co-exist?
A return to the hand
Elbert Hubbard, deft American salesman and thinker, was consumed with these questions. Handheld versus the mass-produced, technological advancement versus tried-and-true tradition. Earning a comfortable living at Larkin Soap Company in Buffalo before the turn of the century (an era of infatuation with mass production), Hubbard yearned for a more altruistic and creative life.
Traveling to England in 1894, Hubbard was to meet his mentor, Arts & Crafts guru William Morris. Morris had started his Kelmscott Press in 1890, and printed his own writing as well as reissues of classical literature, although most of his fame is from his designs of wallpaper, fabric and stained glass.
Morris, like polymath and technology-bashing John Ruskin, was anti-Victorian excess, anti-industrial revolution and anti-schlock. Both were also influenced by Medieval ideas of the spirituality of creating with one’s hands, the Guild concept of artisan training and the simplicity and functionality of Medieval design. The year after his seminal European sojourn, Hubbard founded The Roycroft Press in East Aurora, his adopted hometown.
Dorothy Markert with her screenprints.
Photo by Nancy J. Parisi.
Books were the first Roycroft handiworks, and gradually the blend of artist colony and enterprise would be expanded to include those who created in copper, wood, leather and clay. The Roycroft Campus was built to resemble Medieval structures and within these several industrious spaces (a tea house, a chapel, inn, bindery, etc.) the Arts & Crafts philosophy was in full, nature-loving throttle.
Fun facts: Roycroft operated four farms and the Roycroft philosophy was even carried over to how artisans chewed their food. Frequent visitor/nutritionist Horace Fletcher advocated thorough mastication. Roycrofters referred to this as “fletcherizing.”
The first wave of Roycroft lasted until 1938, nearly two decades longer than what’s considered the period of the American Arts & Crafts Movement. The Roycroft Campus languished for a long while before becoming Roycroft Renaissance in the 70sthere is a probable connection between the international Arts & Crafts revival and the hippie movement.
To signify the difference between Roycroft and Roycroft Renaissance, the iconic orb (an R in a circle below a double cross that appears on all pieces) had another R added that faces in the opposite direction. In 1976, the Roycrofters-at-Large Association was founded by Kitty Turgeon and Robert Rust. One decade later the Roycroft Campus received National Historic Landmark status.
The new Roycroft mission
Dorothy Markert - Amaryllis
Roycrofters-at-Large Association is a governing group that protects the Roycroft name and promotes the original Hubbard ideals that remain in practice. This internationally-recognized creative locus attracts craftsmen who can, through a jurying process, work under the Roycroft auspices. There are two categories for craftsmen: artisans and master artisans and to date there are eleven and twenty-three, respectively, who practice under these designations. Only master artisans are allowed to embellish their handiwork with the Roycroft insignia.
Each April, RALA members and master Roycroft artisans meet in the Roycroft chapel to review work of both types of prospective artisans. After acceptance, each artisan must go through the jurying process every yeara master artisan must be re-juried every five years. Both artisans and master artisans are expected to show dedication to their craft as well as growth: those who languish lose their status. After two to four years an artisan might get a big green light, moving up one notch and earning their right to utilize the double R’s as a master.
Both master artisans and artisans are marketed on the Roycroft webpage at minimal cost to them. Additionally, they are promoted via exhibitions at the East Aurora site as well as exhibited at national Arts & Crafts venues.
To learn about what it means to be part of such a rich and respected tradition, I spoke with two master Roycroft artisans who live and work in Western New York: printmaker Dorothy Markert, based in Hamburg, and glass artist Giuliano Deganis. For twenty-nine years Deganis has worked with his life partner, Patricia Deganis, as Inlight Art Glass in Buffalo.
Both Dorothy and Giuliano have a deep affection and reverence for Roycroft, its history and its contemporary community. Both are self-taught and found their artistic paths by chance and by passion. I spent an afternoon with each of these artists in their studios and have this to report: according to my fieldwork Roycroft master artisans have the tidiest studio spaces you’ve ever seen. They’re as cozy and functional as a Medievally-inspired Roycroft chair.
From graphic designer to master artisan
Dorothy Markert earned her master Roycroft artisan status in 1997 after two years in the minors. Although she makes other work, she is best known for her silkscreens of stylized flowers in Arts & Crafts pottery. The flowers and vases are enmeshed and further enlivened by reproductions of Arts & Crafts borders.
Pieces such as Pansies in my Van Briggle Bowl, Daffodils in a Newcomb College Vase and Trumpet Vine in a Teco Vase create a dialogue between Markert’s obvious love of garden and wildflowers, Arts & Crafts tradition, and collectible pottery of the period.
“I went to the Traphagen School of Fashion Design in New York City when I first got out of high school, and I realized after a short time that I wasn’t too interested in fashion design. But I loved the life drawing classes, the color theory, lettering, that sort of thing. That was only a year and a half of school and afterwards I started working in the art department of American Girl Magazine that the Girl Scouts published ... this was back in the late forties.”
After her magazine stint Markert worked as a window designer in Ithaca, New York and then as a technical illustrator for Bell Labs in New Jersey. She met her husband at Bell and the two married and moved to Hamburg forty years ago. Markert began making artwork and had several shows in Hamburg and began taking then teaching adult education courses in drawing and painting.
“The local P.T.A. where my children were going to school knew that I did artwork and asked me to do some posters for them. I had always been interested in screen printing and I said ‘sure, if you buy me some materials, I’ll make the posters.’ They were happy to do it, and I got a little book and taught myself how to do screen printing. Some of the posters were not too great to start with but no one ever complained. It was good for me, it gave me a deadline, I had to do something and I really got familiar with things. I won’t do posters anymore.”
Dorothy Markert - Pansies in a Van Briggle Bowl.
From P.T.A. posters, Markert started to make her own artwork, all drawn directly onto the screen and printed in her basement studio. She tells me that when she began printmaking the inks and solvents were toxic, and created fumes in the Markert home which her children complained about. Today, Markert’s printing materials are all water-based and much less toxic. “I had to learn to work with the water-based inks, but now I’m really comfortable with them. And I’ve been using them exclusively for twenty years or so now.”
A meeting with Kitty Turgeon led to Markert’s involvement with Roycroft.
“I have always been very interested in the Arts & Crafts movement and in Roycroft. My husband and I take Elderhostels all over the country and I saw that Roycroft was offering an Elderhostel and I thought ‘what a wonderful opportunity’ so we enrolled and I loved every bit of it. We had a sort of show and tell at one point and I brought some of my prints in because I had started making prints to reflect my interest in the Arts & Crafts movement.”
Turgeon immediately liked the prints and asked if Markert would like to sell them in the Roycroft Shop. Markert was on her Appian Way (pathway to the historical Roycroft Campus) so to speak.
During her two years as artisan, Markert developed her screen printing techniques and refined the body of work she has been developing for the past eight yearsa continuous stream of vivid flowers in earthy pots. In the beginning of her Roycroft career, she tells me, she created small editions of only twenty prints and these would sell out. Now she creates artwork (both the flora in Arts & Crafts pottery as well as the architectural prints) in editions of fifty.
Was it harrowing becoming a master Roycroft artisan? “No, I didn’t expect to become a master artisan and I didn’t really have great expectations. I’ve entered enough art shows and been rejected enough that I can take rejection. I didn’t expect to become a master after two years, because you do normally stay in about five years. It’s whenever people think you’re ready. You’re judged by your peers, the master artisans.”
Markert tells me that via the Roycroft website her work sells steadily all over the country, shipped to as far away as Californiato date.
“And the connections with other people, other artists, are great. I’m in contact with Laura Wilder, a printmaker in Rochester who is also a master Roycroft artisan. Her things are quite different but we’re able to discuss things that only another printmaker would be able to talk to you about. We can encourage each other and kind of help direct each other. There’s a new artisan from the Wellsville area who’s coming up next month with a small group of artists who she works with. She’s a potter. They’re going to spend the day here and I’m going to teach them about screen printing. Just very simple screen printing.”
Would Markert have liked Hubbard, does she think? “I probably would have enjoyed meeting him. He was a real salesman, entrepreneur and I guess a really wonderful speaker. He was quite the character.”
Preserving our stained glass heritage
Giuliano Deganis holding
his Hubcap Lamp.
Like Markert, Giuliano Deganis came into his craft through a bit of fate. I sat and spoke with the Deganises in Inlight Art Glass on Elmwood Avenue, a space full of gorgeous lamps, stained glass windows, and sketches of works-in-progress. The pair were together named Master Roycroft Artisans in 1994.
They emphasize that during their twenty-nine year old partnership (marriage as well as art career) they have had specialized roles: he is the creator of the glass pieces. Her strength is in color combination suggestions where needed. They both state that Patricia is the extra pair of eyes for important mid-project reevaluation. They reiterate that they do not try to usurp each other’s place in the partnership: he is the artisan, she is the businessperson. They finish each other’s thoughts in conversation.
How did Giuliano get into glass? “I was trying to matriculate at Buff State in the wood department and the dean there said I was too old at thirty-two to take a space that was for somebody that would actually do something with woodworking in their life. So my real background is wood, I love wood and that was what I was really interested in.”
Disheartened by not being admitted into this department, he turned his interest toward stained glass, specifically what he calls the Old Masters windows in Buffalo. “Tiffany, Lefarge and a lot of lesser-known artisans are here.”
“There are Tiffany windows at Holy Angels Church on Porter,” Patricia says. He adds: “and then there’s First Presbyterian, Good Shepherd. There was a company in town, Glass Design Associates, they went out of business and I bought their scrap glass that they had, all this antique, expensive glass.
“We got that and started cutting it and putting things together.”
“It was incredible,” Patricia enthuses, “once we saw that we were both hooked. It was pieces and sheets of glass not made into anything but the beauty of the glass itself was so intriguing.” The pair researched art glass in the library and started their craft careers in the 70s, during what they both refer to as “the new movement in glass.”
The Deganises learned about art glass (beveling, blowing and design) from glass-involved people in the community, before their involvement with Roycroft.
Their designs range from Roycroft and Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired windows, to original romantic lamp designs. The objets d’arts they are proudest of are meticulously-crafted tree sculpture lamps with redwood and manzanita (ancient tree root) bases, copper structural supports sculpted to look like branches and topped with art glass shades. Additionally, they perform window and lamp restorations.
They tell me about the way older glass was beveled by hand on enormous machines which pass each plane along four wheels: two for grinding and two for polishing. Newer windows, they tell me, are made less carefully in third world countries on machines which don’t bevel as precisely.
Patricia and Giuliano were involved with Roycroft for several years before applying to become artisans. Because of their commitment to their craft, like Markert, they moved up to master artisan status very quickly. Their Double R sign is silkscreened onto a piece of glass in lampshades or stamped into the metal of bases.
Is it possible to reproduce an original Roycroft lamp design as master artisans? “Roycroft doesn’t have a patent or copyright on many of the designs, maybe some of them,” Patricia says. He adds, “we’ll make it exactly like it for them, because they own the copyright.”
We are in the studio admiring a beautiful and simply designed table lamp in cobalt blue and white, which Giuliano designed at three different heights, striving for a perfect balance between the height of the shade and the legs. “I used glass from a sheet and then cut it into sections to curve it so you can see the grain wrapped around. I think I should do it again with some really dramatic glass, all glass is beautiful but some really has more fire in it.”
The couple recently completed a restoration of the gorgeous art glass ceilinga stylized sunin Buffalo’s Common Council chambers. In great detail they describe the way they had to balance above the window on a thin catwalk to manipulate the heavy pieces of glass in and out of place.
Wright windows restored
by the Deganises.
Photo by G. Deganis.
For two years in the mid-eighties Giuliano completely restored the Wright-designed windows in the Gardener’s Cottage in the Darwin Martin House complex. The high-profile job, featured in Metropolitan Home magazine, involved using gold leaf in the door panels. In the 90s their big gig was to create the Arts and Crafts green glass lanterns that illuminate the renovated Roycroft Inn.
Giuliano and Patricia are contemplating offering small classes in their Inlight studio space as there’s a resurgence of interest, they say, in creating via art glass.
I ask them to share their thoughts on being Roycroft master artisans and Giuliano without hesitation states, “I like the philosophy behind it and the concept of the extension of one’s spirit through one’s work.
“Hubbard’s original idea is that your work is the only thing that you have to leave behind and if you put your heart into it, it will show in the work. It’s a concept and it’s a philosophy, and that’s what the Roycrofters promote.”
Related websites: www.dorothymarkert.com, www.roycrofters.com.
Nancy J. Parisi has been a photojournalist, artist, journalist, and poet for over twenty years. She is a local correspondent for AOL’s Digital City, is a regular contributor to Buffalo Spree, and is a member of Buffalo Art Commission’s Arts and Cultural Funding Advisory Committee.
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