Between art and commerce: women, business ownership, and the arts and crafts movement

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In art historical works and social and cultural histories the Arts and Crafts movement is portrayed as an anti-commercial design reform movement that revolved around the workshops of a cadre of elite male ‘craftsmen’. But a confluence of elements during this era — developments in print culture; urbanization; mass consumerism; the women’s movement; reactions against industrialization; widespread interest in medievalism and domestic crafts — created an environment in which many more people became involved in the movement than is traditionally recognized. This research offers the first history of the emergence of women’s ‘artistic’ businesses across England, c.1870–1939. The article argues that the persistent focus on institutional hierarchies in histories of skilled work has led to a failure to consider the importance of rhetorical self-fashioning and the built environment in the construction of new cultural roles. Engrained disciplinary divides have also led to discrete bodies of scholarship on the history of artistic culture,‘professional society’, and business ownership, which belie the interwoven nature of these categories in lived experience. Tracing the gendered strategies implemented by women business owners ultimately reveals their democratization of the movement to incorporate greater reception of domestic consumerism, ‘popular’ culture, and a wider range of incomes and interests.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)151–196
Number of pages46
JournalPast & Present
Issue number1
Early online date29 Apr 2020
Publication statusPublished - May 2020


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