Schoolhouse Gallery is a sunny place bursting with Roycroft goodness, created entirely by Roycroft artisans. The shop is a co-op space for approximately seventy certified Roycroft artists who are allowed to use the prestigious Double-R (Roycroft Renaissance) mark on their handiworks.
The Roycroft movement was created by writer/artist/philosopher/dandy Elbert Hubbard in the late nineteenth century in East Aurora, a guild and community espousing creativity and the spiritual connection an artist feels in making finely-crafted, beautiful, and functional objects. The name means “King’s Craft,” taken from a British guild admired by Hubbard. In 1900, upwards of 500 artisans were affiliated with Roycroft; after Hubbard and his second wife, suffragist Alice Moore Hubbard (also the principal of the on-site boys’ school and manager of the Roycroft Inn), perished when the RMS Lusitania was sunk by a German U-boat during World War I.
Some of the original Roycroft buildings still exist and are known collectively as the “Roycroft Campus,” sited along East Aurora’s South Grove Street and Main Street. In 1986, these structures were honored with National Historic Landmark status and a brick walkway, “The Appian Way,” named for the ancient Roman roadway, links Roycroft Campus buildings. Nine of the original fourteen buildings still exist, including the famed Roycroft Inn, Copper Shop (now a gift shop), Furniture Shop, chapel, and others.
The Hubbard legacy lives on with the existence of The Roycrofters-at-Large Association, overseers of the juried craftspeople in ten genres: wood, glass, photography, sculpture, leather, paper/book arts, clay, metalsmithing/jewelry, painting/printing/pen & ink, and fabric/fiber. The arduous process of becoming a certified Roycroft artisan is laid out on the RALA website (www.ralaweb.com).
There are two levels of Roycroft juried craftsmen; Artisan, and Master Artisan Levels. All enter at the Artisan Level, and must re-submit work to be juried/selected annually. To become a Master Artisan one must be nominated by a current Master Artisan: they are then re-juried/selected every five years. Only these artisans may use the double-R Roycroft Renaissance mark on their work.
Although sharing a name and a common goal of preserving the Roycroft legacy, the Roycroft Artisans’ Schoolhouse Gallery and The Roycroft Campus are distinct and separate entities.
Photo by Schoolhouse Gallery
When visiting the gallery, look for the little red and yellow building on the way into or out of town along Olean Road on the outskirts of the Village of East Aurora, and up a berm. The bona fide, historical one-room schoolhouse, built in 1850, was an active school until 1948. It’s impeccably maintained and is reportedly a hit with tourists who love to not only shop here but take photos outside: nearby Roycroft Inn suggests this as a stop to their guests.
A sign on the shop door says that if it’s locked to go the studio of Roycrofter Thomas Pafk out back; he’s one of two artists manning the space, the other being Ben Little. It was another Roycroft Artisan, Tom Harris (a woodworker), who purchased the property in 1984 with plans of converting it into his woodshop – before seeing a need and creating the shop/gallery.
A small side trip to Pafk’s studio is highly recommended to see a working woodshop and the furniture-making process. The sweet smell of lumber, commissioned pieces at various stages of completion, and photographs of finished work greet visitors – as well as the affable host who, on a recent visit, said, “I like to think of my designs as Arts & Crafts for the 21st century.”
Inside Schoolhouse Gallery are home furnishings, artwork, jewelry and many gift items. Copper work, ceramics, and fiber art round out the traditional Roycroft works. Pafk answers questions about shop items, giving information about each artisan and the processes involved in making each unique item.
At the end of our conversation, Pafk mentioned two annual events that present the opportunity to experience the handcrafted excellence of Roycroft Renaissance artisans: The Winter Festival that is typically held the first weekend of December and the Summer Festival held the last full weekend in June. Works by artisans from throughout the U.S. and Canada –sixty booths in all – are set up at Classic Rink on Riley Street in town. On hiatus in 2020, the organization hopes to be set up and doing its artful thing this year.
The Roycrofters-at-Large Association