Monday, July 28, 2008

C R Ashbee, Gays, Arts and Crafts

A few weeks ago I posted here about my puzzlement with the socialist writer William Paine. As a result of that post I received a wonderful email about the connections between the Uranians and the Arts and Crafts Movement in both Britain and the US and in particular about Charles Robert Ashbee (above). The author of the email has kindly allowed me to post his musings here and I suppose it goes without saying that one hopes someone is going to take up his challenge of a history of the Arts and Crafts Movement and homosexuality.

"I was intrigued by your interest in William Paine.and what you identify as "erotic socialism". One connection you might pursue is C. R. Ashbee, who articulated a similar brand of erotic socialism and was homosexual. Ashbee's Guild of the Handicraft in Chipping Campden served apparently as the locus for some of his romantic affairs as well as the model for many of the socialist "arts & crafts" societies and communes in Britain and the U.S. Ashbee was married, but his wife apparently knew of and approved of his same-sex affairs. Ashbee was far more prolific and influential than Paine, but one wonders if they met or knew of each other.

My twin interests in the Arts & Crafts Movement and in Uranian literature has lead me to note a number of connections between the two. In Britain, of course, Edward Carpenter and his associates are well-known and researched advocates of an erotic socialism. Here in the U.S., Terence Kissack's recent book Free Comrades: Anarchism and Homosexuality in the United States 1895-1917 has revealed similar but long forgotten connections here. There is most definately a gay history of the Arts & Crafts Movement yet to be written."

and then later, my correspondent added:

"Do have a look at Alan Crawford's excellent biography of Ashbee. He goes into some detail about the overlapping connections between the British A&C and the British Uranians. If I recall correctly, for example, Ashbee and George Ives were good friends. Ives, of course, had his own notions of a gay utopia.

Carpenter was a member of Wlliam Morris' Socialist League. Rossetti famously complained of Swinburne and Solomon chasing each other around his house in the nude (boys will be boys). Jason Edwards has recently detailed the connections between Alfred Gilbert, Frederic Leighton, Wilde and others. Of course, Shannon and Ricketts' had a huge influence book and theater design. I also have my suspicions about C. F. A. Voysey. His international art journal The Studio was full of von Gloeden art photos and Uranian poetry. Famously, a primary venue Uranian poetry, The Artist and Journal of Home Culture, was essentially an interior design magazine (Martha Stewart with a twist).

As might be expected, Wilde is a central figure around which much of the recent research on the connections between gays in art, literature, architecture, interior design, and theater design in the A&C period. Gere & Hoskins' The House Beautiful: Oscar Wilde and the Aesthetic Interior and Mary Blanchard's Oscar Wilde's America come to mind. We also tend to ignore Saint Oscar's radical politics. "The Soul of Man under Socialism" is somewhat familiar, but take a look at his early play Vera, Or the Nihilists. Not great theater, but it won him the admiration and loyalty of anarchists worldwide.

Here in the States, we have architect Louis Sullivan chasing the boys in Chicago. Douglas Shand-Tucci's two-volume biography on Ralph Adams Cram and his very gay circle is full of possible connections that need to be explored more fully. And on the political side, recent work on Walt Whitman, particularly Michael Robinson's Worshipping Walt: The Whitman Disciples, explores another important link between Whitmanism, socialist ideas and gay sensibilities in the U.S. and Britain."

A huge thank you to my corresondent on these matters and I am sure that his erudition and passion for this subject will be of interest to readers of this blog. N'est pas?

1 comment:

Terence Kissack said...

Very interesting. One might also look at utopian communities such as Spirit Fruit to see if connections become visible.

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