The Artistic Furniture of Charles Rohlfs

“My designs are my own. I evolve them. They are like those of no other period nor people...I do not read Ruskin nor anybody nor anything that might influence my ideas. I never get them from books...They are mine and into their execution I put all my heart and force and that is why they appeal.” —Charles Rohlfs (1853–1936), House Beautiful, January 1900

Charles Rohlfs thought of himself as an American original. This charismatic furniture designer from Buffalo, New York, emphatically denied any connection to particular movements or stylistic influences. He claimed that his individual inspiration came from the natural grain of oak and his own creative imagination. He called his work “Artistic Furniture” or, simply, “The Rohlfs Style” and, in turn, cultivated an enigmatic persona that has persisted until now.

The Artistic Furniture of Charles Rohlfs is the first major museum exhibition to bring together this designer’s rich body of work. Over forty of Rohlfs’ extraordinary creations will be presented in the context of groundbreaking research into the Rohlfs family archives and new documentary sources, which begin to reveal the origins of Rohlfs’ designs and the role of his wife, Anna Katharine Green. Rohlfs’ devotion to personal expression has roots in the “art for art’s sake” theories of the late-nineteenth-century Aesthetic movement. Formally, his virtuosic carving and imaginative silhouettes relate to the abstract naturalism of Art Nouveau styling, combined with a wide range of international design traditions. At the same time, Rohlfs’ innovations influenced the pared-down oak forms that became hallmarks of the Arts and Crafts movement. Combining design motifs in remarkably inventive ways, Rohlfs created furniture like none other, whose story and legacy contribute a new chapter to the history of American design.

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