The (America) House that Mrs. Webb Built

from The Magazine ANTIQUES, July/August 2012 |

The April 1971 issue of Craft Horizons magazine featured a short essay titled "America House 1940-1971," a eulogy, really, written by Aileen O. Webb for America House, a retail shop she had founded thirty years earlier.1 To the average reader of Craft Horizons (also found­ed by Mrs. Webb)2 this was not such a big deal. However, if you went on to read the essay beneath it, "America House: An Appreciation" written by Harriet Cohen, a ceramist whose work regularly sold at the shop, the closing was a "tremendous blow" to American craftsmen.3 Though the shop had fulfilled its mission to bring American crafts to a wider public, those who sold their work there would miss it as they would a trusted friend.

Aileen Osborn Webb (Mrs. Van­derbilt Webb) came from a family of art patrons: her father, William Church Osborn, was the president of the Metropolitan Museum of Art; her uncle, Henry Fairfield Osborn, was the president of the American Mu­seum of Natural History; and her sister-in-law, Electra Havemeyer Webb (Mrs. James Watson Webb), would establish the Shelburne Mu­seum in Vermont in 1947.

During the Depression, Aileen Webb had begun a crafts group called Putnam Coun­ty Products in her hometown of Peekskill, New York, to help local craftsmen sell their wares. Recognizing the need for an organi­zation that would aid members of the many craft leagues around the country find wider markets for their products, she became the guiding light in the formation of the Hand­craft Cooperative League of America in 1940.4 The league decided to establish a shop that would offer crafts of the finest quality from across the country, and chose New York-home to the most discerning custom­ers-as its location. The name "America House" was suggested by league member Laurits Christian Eichner, a pewter craftsman.

[Compiled by Bill Stern, Executive Director at the Museum of California Design, Los Angeles. Originally published in "Curator's Eye" in Modern Magazi

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