Among the trio of turn-of-the-century New York State Arts and Crafts communities, Elverhoj is the least-well-known. The recent publication of Elverhoj: The Arts and Crafts Colony at Milton-on-Hudson (Black Dome Press, 2022; distributed by RIT Press), written by William B. Rhoads and Leslie Melvin, resolves the oversight.
Roycroft, in East Aurora (Erie County), and Byrdcliffe, in Woodstock, both began earlier than Elverhoj. Previously, each was the subject of a definitive scholarly text.
Elverhoj was established by Anders Andersen and Johannes Morton on the picturesque west shore of the Hudson River in 1912. Its Danish name loosely translates to “hill of the fairies.” Persisting until the 1930s, well outside of the Arts and Crafts period, it fell victim to the Depression eventually filing for bankruptcy like so many enterprises.
In between, and for a quarter century, Elverhoj (pronounced “El-ver-hoy”) enjoyed enthusiastic, positive public reception and critical distinction: at exhibitions in Chicago, New York, and Boston; winning a gold medal at the 1915 Pacific Exposition in San Francisco; and being featured in an article published in The Craftsman, a monthly magazine published by Gustav Stickley and a key organ for the American Arts and Crafts Movement.
Today, Elverhoj’s metalware and jewelry are arguably best known, though scarce. In addition to these (relatively speaking) better known forms, work produced in silver, copper and wrought iron, etchings and paintings round-out the Elverhoj craft oeuvre.
Some Elverhoj products doubtless escape contemporary notice as they are unmarked by either the artist who created them or the place where they were created. Whether modesty or communitarianism accounts for this is unknown.
Thankfully, the book offers archival photographs and, more significantly, artist drawings for many Elverhoj products. They include unusual (and probably never before seen) metal sconces, table and hanging lighting. The illustrations provide readers with examples from which attributions can now have a reference source.
The book’s authors take readers on a deep dive into Elverhoj. Rhoads and Melvin are masters at ferreting out fugitive information—from archives and newspapers to advertising clippings and printed brochures. Meticulously documented, the text as much satisfies readers with heretofore unreported information as it acts as a springboard and inspiration for ambitious researchers to dive deeper into original, primary texts associated with their own investigations.
The thirteen-chapter narrative is organized chronologically. Thematic chapters identify subjects of particular appeal and significance: how work produced at the Colony brought it a national reputation, the (legitimizing) presence of important visitors to the Elverhoj colony, and a lengthy chapter about the craftswomen of Elverhoj.
As interest in Arts and Crafts tapered off by the late-teens, finally dissipating in the 20s, Elverhoj turned to theatrical productions with performances covered by the New York Times beginning in 1926. Famed film actress Dorothy Gish, for instance, performed at the colony in 1932.
Distinctively, and unlike Roycroft and Byrdcliffe that never established formal ties to any educational institution, Elverhoj connected with nearby Vassar College. Summer classes at Elverhoj dovetailed with Vassar’s curricular interests. Even commerce between the two organizations ensued: Elverhoj made Vassar’s 1922 class ring.
A 20-page timeline of the Elverhoj Colony (constructed by Melvin), an appendix of personalities (with thumbnail biographies) with looser connections to the Colony, and a second appendix focused on retail shops hosting Elverhoj’s output concludes the work.
Since its 1972 revival, research on the American Arts and Crafts Movement (1900-1920) has unsurprisingly moved from the initial broad strokes to more particular, finely detailed narratives. Elverhoj is William Rhoads and Leslie Melvin’s valuable report on the modest-sized craft colony that made an over-sized contribution to the movement.
While early, waterfront approaches to the decorative arts style importantly helped situate and contextualize (and in some cases, glamorize) the Movement, subsequent investigations more specific in nature deepen understanding of the Movement, its products, and personalities.
Rhoads and Melvin’s Elverhoj compares favorably with the exhaustive texts on the state’s two other arts and crafts colonies (Via and Searl’s 1994 Head, Heart and Hand on Roycroft and Green’s 2015 book, Byrdcliffe). As such, Elverhoj belongs on the bookshelves of all serious Arts and Crafts scholars as well as those studying decorative art and the history of craft in the United States.
Readable and impeccably documented, the book is profusely illustrated. Copies can be ordered from RIT Press.
William Rhoads is professor emeritus of Art History, SUNY at New Paltz, and author of numerous books and scholarly articles, including many on the Colonial Revival and Franklin Roosevelt’s interests in architecture and art. Leslie Melvin is an academic technologist at Bard College and joined the Elverhoj research group while a board member of the Ulster County Historical Society.
Photos, from above: Elverhoj Summer School cover; and Elverhoj table lamp provided.
Looks like a great read. Great discovery to the Arts Crafts groups.