Perhaps the best known of the five Stickley brothers, Gustav, the eldest, was born in Wisconsin to German immigrants. In 8th grade Gustav left school to join his father in stonemasonry to help support his family, a trade which Gustav was none too fond of. In mid 1870 the family moved to Brandt, PA where Gustav set to work in his Uncle Jacob Schlaeger’s chair factory. Fourteen years later Gustav would leave this factory to start a business with his brothers Charles and Albert in Binghampton, N.Y.
Lacking sophisticated machinery, Gustav produced work which was very simple and more vernacular in design as early as the late 1880’s. His full conversion to Arts and Crafts began after a trip to England in 1898. When Gustav returned from this trip he established United Crafts, the forerunner of Craftsman Workshops.
Although credited for starting the Arts and Crafts movement in the U.S., it was already evident in domestic and international journals, and utopian work/communities like the Roycrofters, where already producing Arts & Crafts style furniture.
In 1901 Stickley published The Craftsman magazine, a monthly journal devoted to the Arts and Crafts style with articles on everything from home decorating and gardening to house plans and poetry.
In 1903 Gustav hired Harvey Ellis (1852-1904) to provide designs for The Craftsman. Eventually Ellis worked his way into Gustav’s workshop and managed to add his design skills to Gustav’s still simple approach to furniture making. With a British style similar to that of Scottish designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh or English architect MH Baillie-Scott, Ellis transformed the bulky furniture of Gustav Stickley into a more lyrical creature, still keeping a good balance of simplicity and beauty.
In 1915 Gustav declared bankruptcy and in 1918 his workshops were taken over by his brothers Leopold and John George, co-owners of the L&JG Stickley Company.