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Elbert Hubbard [1856-1915]

“I believe John Ruskin, William Morris, Henry Thoreau, Walt Whitman and Leo Tolstoy to be Prophets of God, and they should rank in mental reach and spiritual insight with Elijah, Hosea, Ezekiel and Isaiah.”—Elbert Hubbard

When RMS Lusitania left its birth on May first, 1915, who knew the fate of the decorative arts in America was aboard. Elbert Hubbard—socialist-anarchist, publisher and founder of the Roycroft Shops in East Aurora, New York—sailed with his suffragette wife Alice Moore Hubbard for Liverpool, just three years after the ill-fated Titanic. Irony sailed with the Hubbards, too, because he had written so eloquently about the heroic Ida Straus who chose to remain with her husband Isidor on that other sinking ship, rather than take space in a lifeboat. 

Hubbard and Gustav Stickley were arguably the leaders of the Arts & Crafts movement in America. And Hubbard himself was linked by marriage and business relationships with John H. Larkin, founder of the Larkin Soap Company, and other company officers William Heath and Darwin D. Martin. All three—Larkin, Heath and Martin—would be clients of the young Frank Lloyd Wright. Do you imagine that Wright and Hubbard themselves might have collaborated if the ship hadn’t sunk?

In addition to his periodicals The Fra and The Philistine, Hubbard had established an art and craft workshop in suburban East Aurora, New York (just beyond Buffalo) in the spirit of William Morris. His workshops produced fine bindings, metalwork and other decorative arts to improve the American domestic environment. So it was with another dose of irony that St Joseph-the-Carpenter Episcopal church in Agincourt had recently acquired a copper bowl to serve as its baptismal basin.

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Remember Episcopalians baptize by sprinkling, not total immersion.

Remember also that Anson Curtiss Tennant sailed for England that same May day, except that his death was only supposed. Brought back from the dead, Howard was able to know his great-uncle Anson well—as well as he was willing to be known. I forget to ask Howard if the young Tennant had met the Hubbards aboard the ship or remembered very much at all of the sinking. Perhaps he’ll write about it some day.

So now the Roycroft basin has been stolen, and Dwight Mickelson is crafting its replacement, adding another chapter to the story of St Joe’s.

 


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