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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Charles Rohlfs – Arts & Crafts Movement

I was reading an old article the other day about a chair that was sold by Cottone Auctions, near Rochester, New York. According to the article the chair which was expected to bring in about $30,000 at auction was actually sold for close to $200,000. Normally, this would not have been unusual if it had been a chair made by Stickley, Wright or Morris, but the maker of the chair was Charles Rohlfs. What intrigued me more was that the article said that Rohlfs was originally from the west side of Buffalo, in the same area where I grew up. I had never heard of him, so I started doing a little research and found an interesting story.

Charles Rohlfs (1853-1936) was born in Brooklyn and studied at Cooper Union and after graduation did some acting. According to some published reports, his acting was awful and he received horrifying reviews from the press. However as a result he met Anna Katherine Green, at the time a best selling crime novelist who was seven years his senior. Before his father in law agreed to their marriage, Rohlfs first had to give up acting. We don’t know how true that may be, but they married in 1884, moved to Buffalo, New York and soon thereafter Rohlfs began designing furniture.

Being one of the most creative craftsmen of the Art & Crafts movement, Rohlfs designs were a bit off when compared to the works of other famous makers of that movement. While others were using simple lines, Rohlfs was using simple lines ornamented with carvings and a mix of styles that set him apart from the rest. Working in the attic of his home at 26 Highland Avenue, Rohlfs created some of the most sophisticated yet creative furniture of the time. Rohlfs then built a mission style home at 156 Park Street in Buffalo, opened a furniture design studio and became world renowned for his abilities. In the early 1900’s, Rohlfs was made a member of the Royal Society of the Arts in London, and later commissioned to provide chairs for Buckingham Palace.

Charles Rohlfs artistic flair and individualistic design can be seen at his mission style home in Buffalo as well as an upcoming 2009 exhibition that will be traveling around the country.

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