The (America) House that Mrs. Webb Built

All of Mrs. Webb's organizations were inextri­cably linked and supported each other. For example, the most talented students at the School for American Craftsmen, which she founded in 1944, sold their work at America House, as did the faculty. Harold Brennan, the director, wrote that the school "used America House as a clinical laboratory, providing a testing ground of the most rigorous sort for design, technical handling, and price."20

In the last decade of its existence America House, under director Bill Hodges, tried to implement new ideas for attracting clients and to improve features already in place. A "selection board" was established to approve all the work offered for sale; a mail-order catalogue was issued; a wider selection of home furnish­ings was offered; and an architecture and interior design consultation service was initiated to pair clients with America House craftsmen.21 Actually, Caroé had con­ceived the idea of an interior design service in the 1940s, though it was not realized at that time. During the late 1950s and 1960s privately owned branches of Ameri­ca House were opened across the country-in Sun Valley, Idaho; Birmingham, Michigan; and in the Frederick and Nelson department store in Seattle.

In her press statement on the closing of America House, Mrs. Webb said that the shop had accomplished the goal set forth thirty years earlier.22 As promised, America House had offered its customers an extensive selection of handmade, some one-of-a-kind, pieces made by master craftsmen. But by 1971 American crafts were no longer an anomaly, and the desire for them had never been stronger. Mission accomplished.

I would like to thank Jeannine Falino at the Museum of Arts and Design for her guidance and support.

 

BELLA NEYMAN is a design historian and journalist living in Brooklyn. Her areas of specialization are twentieth-century decorative arts, fashion, and jewelry.

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by Émile Jacques Ruhlmann (1879-1933), 1926. Macassar ebony, amaranth, and ivory. Metropolitan Museum of Art. By Cynthia Drayton

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