Sassafras Linen Press

Byrdcliffe Arts and Crafts Colony (American, 1902–1915)

attrib. to Ralph Radcliffe Whitehead (American (born England), Yorkshire 1854–1929 Santa Barbara, California)
Watercolor, colored pencil, and black ink, over graphite
sheet: 10 x 7 3/8 in. (25.4 x 18.8 cm)
Drawings, Ornament & Architecture
Credit Line:
Purchase, Friends of the American Wing Fund and Mr. and Mrs. Mark Willcox, Jr. Gift, 1991
Accession Number:
  • Description

    Inspired by the ideas of the Arts and Crafts Movement, the Englishman Ralph Whitehead, who had studied under John Ruskin at Oxford, sought to establish his own ideal, self-sustaining art community in the United States. After a failed experiment in Oregon, in 1902 he founded the Byrdcliffe Arts and Crafts Colony right outside Woodstock, New York. In 1903 he published his vision for the community: ‘[It] is our intention to make furniture of a simple kind which shall be good in proportion, and to which distinction may be given by the application of color and carving by artists' hands (…)’. This oak linen press perfectly embodies these ideas in its modest, rectilinear shape, hand-carved panels and wood surfaces finished with transparent stains in natural colors. The piece also illustrates Whitehead’s idea of artists working together and combining skills to create beautiful and honest furniture pieces. While he himself designed the outline of the linen press, the carved panels with stylized sassafras leaves were designed by Edna M. Walker, who graduated from Brooklyn's Pratt School of Design before joining Whitehead in 1903.

  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Inscription: Lower left: R in a circle in pencil
    Lower right: "BYRDCLIFEE FURNITURE / HEIGHT 4'5" LENGTH 3'2" / SCALE 1 1/2" "
    Lower right: "No 41" in pencil
    On verso: "Sassefras design - / Oak-carved / $80"

  • Provenance

    Donor: Mr. and Mrs. Mark Willcox, Jr.

  • Exhibition History

    The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Living in Style. Five centuries of interior design from the collection of drawings and prints".

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History