The Charles Hosmer Morse family began wintering in Winter Park in 1883. Osceola Lodge, named after an heroic Seminole Indian chief, and the nearby Knowles cottage were two of three houses that businessman and Winter Park pioneer Francis B. Knowles built on speculation in 1886. In 1904, Morse (1833–1921) bought the largest of the three at 231 Interlachen Avenue, what is now Osceola Lodge, and shortly began an expansion and extensive remodeling in the Arts and Crafts style of the period. The Morse Museum’s collection includes Craftsman furnishings he purchased for the home from Gustav Stickley, the influential figure who helped popularize the movement’s ideals across America.
Morse purchased the Knowles cottage, just behind Osceola Lodge, in 1914 primarily to serve as a guest house. Several other prominent Winter Park families owned the house, including the Robert L. Bigelow family, before and after the Morse family period of ownership. Morse made Osceola Lodge his permanent residence in 1915 and died there in 1921. His second wife, Helen Hart Piffard, whom he married in 1911, lived in the house until she died in 1929.
Morse’s granddaughter Jeannette Genius, who founded the Morse Museum, frequently accompanied her grandfather on his winter trips from Chicago to Winter Park and Osceola Lodge. She moved into the house in 1937. She and her husband, Hugh F. McKean, lived in the house for a few years beginning in 1947. Osceola Lodge today houses the study center and offices for the Winter Park Institute, the Rollins College visiting scholars program launched in the fall of 2008.
The Morse Foundation completed the exterior restoration of Osceola Lodge in the spring of 2006. The 12-month, $1.3 million project returned the house to its appearance at the time Morse renovated it around 1905 and stabilized its condition so that the house can stand for many more years as a memorial to Morse’s legacy. The project also included the restoration of the adjacent Knowles cottage.
The two buildings were stripped and repainted, the roofs replaced, windows and doors repaired, and deteriorated lumber identified and replaced—all in a manner that was true to the architecture of the respective houses and the style they represented. Although Osceola Lodge was painted white for years, it was determined by removing many layers of paint that the color of the house at the time of Morse’s residency was pale yellow with green shutters and trim. The asbestos shingles on the roof, also added at a later date, were replaced with cedar shingles of the type used in early 19th century. New window shutters were crafted based on historical photographs and an example found in the attic of Osceola Lodge.
Supervised by the preservation firm of Renker Eich Parks Architects of St. Petersburg, Florida, under the guidance of architect John Parks, the effort to be historically accurate was aided enormously by records available from the Morse Museum’s archives. These included photographs and a set of original specifications for the expansion that took place after Morse bought the house. There were also contractor notes and invoices from a renovation supervised in 1937 by Jeannette Genius McKean, which helped the architects positively identify the later alterations to the house.
Arts and Crafts
“Have nothing in your houses which you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful,” William Morris declared in 1880. Morris was a leader of the Arts and Crafts movement, which originated in Britain in the late-19th century and soon spread to America.
This group of reformers, passionately committed to righting the ills they saw in an increasingly industrialized and urban society, chose the arts as their medium. They were convinced that industrialization had degraded the work process and destroyed the environment, reducing the formerly creative craftsman to an anonymous laborer mindlessly repeating unfulfilling tasks. And they condemned the host of ornate, indiscriminately adopted revival styles—from Louis XIV to the Rococo Revival—that dominated the architecture and decorative arts of the Victorian period.
Arts and Crafts at the Morse
The Morse collection shows that Arts and Crafts movement production ranged from unique virtuoso pieces to factory-produced objects. What unites the works on view is their makers’ impulse for design reform: turning to nature for inspiration (rather than to styles from the past) and opposing not all industrial processes, but those that diminished human creativity. Arts and Crafts adherents passionately believed that objects made under these circumstances were morally superior and had the power to improve people’s lives, a conviction that still profoundly influences the way we judge good design today.
A Quest for Artistic Reform
These artistic reformers reasoned that if objects were again designed by the craftsperson and made by hand, “joy in labor” would be restored and shoddy work would disappear. Arts and Crafts practitioners favored solutions that had developed as a response to local climate and geography. By incorporating materials particular to an area and reflecting vernacular traditions, buildings were planned to fit into the landscape. In furniture, such as that by Gustav Stickley’s company, straight lines based on the structure of a piece replaced ornate curves, solid native woods took the place of imported veneers, and unnecessary decoration was rejected. The hope, never fully realized, was that such “simplification” would reduce the cost of products, making them accessible to a wide public.
The collections at the Morse Museum illustrate the goals of the Arts and Crafts movement—the revival of hand craftsmanship, the creation of more satisfying working conditions and the elevation of the decorative arts to the status of fine arts through design unity. In particular, the Morse’s important collection of American art pottery serves as a model for exploring both Arts and Crafts ideals and compromises.
American Art Pottery
The ceramics industry was one of the first to respond to the new demand for more individual, handmade objects. Potters such as George Ohr demonstrated the ideal that a craftsperson should control the entire design process from conception to finished product. He personally designed, threw, manipulated, and glazed his earthenware, but his work was not commercially viable. In contrast, at the successful Grueby Pottery, division of labor between throwing and decorating was the norm, and the vases were not one of a kind. Individuality was maintained by the fact that each piece was thrown (not made in a mold) and by the hand carving that allowed for variation in the prescribed patterns.
Louis Comfort Tiffany’s pottery was produced in molds but each piece was then finished by hand. The wide variety of glaze effects that could be achieved with a single form (bronze, crystalline, or matte; brilliant or subdued in color) are displayed in the gallery devoted to Tiffany pottery. Art Pottery production on the largest and most commercial scale was achieved at companies that added it as a line to their routine output.
Although the Fulper Pottery mostly manufactured utilitarian kitchenwares, in 1909 the company introduced the “Vasekraft” line for “artistic home furnishing.”
Women Were Leaders
Women were the leaders in applying Arts and Crafts principles to social reform, creating many organizations to teach or market pottery and other media for philanthropic purposes.
Founded by settlement house patron Mrs. James J. Storrow, the Paul Revere Pottery grew out of the Saturday Evening Girls’ Club in Boston. The “S.E.G.” provided the daughters of Italian and Jewish immigrants with an alternative to factory work and an opportunity to earn money while receiving artistic instruction.
The emergence of new design schools afforded other opportunities for women, particularly at places such as Newcomb College in New Orleans, which had established a pottery to provide employment for young women who had trained in its art program. The Arts and Crafts commitment to decoration inspired by local plants and flowers is clearly seen in Newcomb pottery, where the primary motifs are magnolias, live oaks, hanging moss, and cypress trees.
Maria Longworth Nichols, a one-time amateur china painter from a wealthy family, founded Rookwood Pottery in 1880 in Cincinnati. It became the most renowned and successful art pottery in America. The ceramic historian Edwin Atlee Barber wrote in 1893: “The Rookwood Pottery was the first in this country to demonstrate the fact that a purely American product ... can command the appreciation of the American public.” Nichols hired full-time decorators and in 1883, a business manager, who chose the shapes and decoration that were the most profitable and subsequently transformed Rookwood into a highly entrepreneurial art industry.
Rookwood’s experiments with French underglaze techniques greatly influenced American art pottery. The pottery’s early, Rembrandt-esque color tones of browns, yellows, and oranges became known as the “Rookwood Standard.” In the 1890s, other palettes and characteristic techniques were developed.
The decorators who were both men and women, were responsible for complete designs and each piece was uniquely decorated. Rookwood, however, like all large-scale Arts and Crafts manufactories, could not meet the Arts and Crafts ideal. Shapes were standardized and division of labor specialized.