The Arts and Crafts movement in Scotland was one of the earliest art movements to be recognized. It had a profound influence on design, particularly in floral wallpaper, ceramics, stained glass and textiles. The movement (1880-1920) was anti-industrial, characterized by its focus on craftsmanship and attention to detail. Its members were instrumental in introducing new styles of decoration that showcased an appreciation for nature and the beauty of Scottish landscapes.
The Arts and Crafts era was born out of a desire to define the Scottish identity. It sought to create unique designs that celebrated Scotland’s natural beauty and its cultural heritage. At the forefront of the movement were a group of influential women who championed its principles and sought to bring awareness to their craft. Among them was architect-designer Phoebe Anna Traquair, whose works incorporated intricate botanical prints and decoration inspired by nature. Jessie Newbery was a designer known for her bold floral wallpapers, while Margaret and Frances Macdonald were renowned for their artwork in textiles. Viollet le Duc's books on nature and Gothique art also played an important role in the aesthetics of the Arts and Crafts movement. Other female luminaries included Jessie King, an illustrator and designer, Margaret and Mary Gilmour who designed and crafted metalwork, and Ann MacBeth, an embroiderer.
Through its focus on craftsmanship and decorative details, the movement has left an indelible mark on Scottish design and culture. Its influence can still be seen today in the many floral designs and patterns used in wallpaper, textiles, furniture, and even fashion. The London department store, Liberty & Co., founded in 1875, was a prominent retailer of goods in the style and of the “artistic dress” favoured by followers of the Arts and Crafts movement.
Also in England around that time, William Morris began making furniture and decorative objects commercially, modelling using bold forms, strong colours and patterns based on flora and fauna, many of which still exist today in the form of upholstery fabrics and Wedgewood china collections. Like the Scottish Arts and Crafts movement after, his products were inspired by domestic traditions of the British countryside. Some were deliberately left unfinished to further emphasize the fact they were hand crafted, emphasizing nature and simplicity of form. Morris believed people should be surrounded by tasteful, well-made things; this vision inspired the emergence of the Arts and Crafts movement in the 1860s.
Back in Scotland, the movement was represented by the development of the Glasgow Style, based on the talent of the famous Glasgow School of Art. A Celtic revival took place, and motifs such as the Glasgow rose, emblematic of the decorative arts, became popularised. Artists like Jessie M King, Annie French and Jessie Newbery would then apply this distinctive style to everything from book illustrations, posters, wallpaper and fabrics to jewellery and homewares.
The architect/graphic designer responsible for the now iconic Glasgow rose, which he first fashioned in stained glass, was creative visionary Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Born in Glasgow in 1868, he was an architect, designer, painter and graphic artist. He began his studies at an impressively young age, enrolling at the Glasgow School of Art at just 15 years old. At the time, the Arts and Crafts movement was just emerging in Scotland and the school embraced it, transforming a strictly fine arts program to one that included a range of crafts including pottery, textiles, metalwork and stained glass. It was there that he became influenced by the simple textures and organic forms of Japanese design and became inspired by well-known Arts and Crafts architects such as J.D. Sedding.
In 1894, he and fellow GSA students Margaret McDonald (who he later married), her sister Frances, and Herbert MacNair formed the “Glasgow Four”, and their unique take on Arts and Crafts became known as “Glasgow Style.” The group attended the 1896 Arts & Crafts Exhibition in London where they debuted a collection of metalwork, posters and furniture, showcasing their distinctive blend of Celtic imagery and abstract motifs, including the sweet cabbage-like flower dubbed the “Glasgow rose."
As a diverse international movement, Arts and Crafts encompassed many characteristics. There was no single manifesto and no one style to which it adhered. Several Arts and Crafts guilds, organizations, and schools helped fuel the movement. As it spread around the world, its core characteristics remained the same: a belief in craftsmanship that stressed the inherent beauty of the material, the importance of nature as inspiration, and the value of simplicity, utility, and beauty.
The movement has also inspired a new generation of Scottish designers who are reviving its principles with modern interpretations of traditional motifs. By combining intricate patterns with vibrant colors, these artists are creating a distinctive style of decorative art that pays homage to Scotland’s heritage while also reflecting a contemporary aesthetic. From floral wallpaper and textiles to furniture designs, the legacy of the Arts and Crafts movement lives on in Scotland’s vibrant artistic culture. In addition to its influence on design, it has been credited with helping to shape the social climate in Scotland. Its commitment to craftsmanship and its appreciation for nature have been seen as a symbol of freedom from oppressive conventions. By casting an eye on Scotland’s past while also looking proudly towards the future, the Arts and Crafts movement has become a source of inspiration to generations of Scots.
WHERE TO FIND ARTS & CRAFTS GOODS NOW:
Hand-drawn prints for fabrics and homewares by contemporary Scottish designer Holly Fulton are clearly influenced by the movement.
Glasgow School of Art grad Fiona Douglas has built a thriving international interior décor business inspired by the wildflowers of the Scottish Highlands where she grew up. Her bold floral paintings are transferred onto wallpaper, pillows, fabric, bedding and ceramics for her label, Bluebell Gray. Available at HBC and Simon’s in Canada, or visit the beautiful studio in a Georgian apartment. Ground Floor, 17 Park Circus Pl., Glasgow.