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.