The Arts and Crafts Movement was an artistic sensibility from the earliest years of the 20th century that abandoned the intricate designs and heaviness of Gilded Age furniture and decoration in favor of simple lines and natural elements. Influenced to some degree by English artist William Morris, this movement emphasized the use of nature and natural elements to showcase superb workmanship. But while Morris and his English colleagues were somewhat reactionary (reacting to the negative effects of the Industrial Revolution), American artists and craftsmen preferred to look at their movement as “progressive”.
Syracuse is justifiably proud of designer Gustav Stickley, who produced beautiful furniture and designs representative of the Arts and Crafts movement.
But Stickley wasn’t the only Syracuse resident who became an artistic leader in that time period: Adelaide Alsop-Robineau, who lived and worked in Syracuse for the last 20 years of her life, is considered by many to have been one of the great American potters.
Born in 1865 to an established Connecticut family (she was a distant cousin of Theodore Roosevelt), Adelaide Alsop was sent to boarding school in the Midwest, where she benefited from excellent art instruction. After living in Chicago for a period of time, she migrated to New York to become a student of the renowned Louis Tiffany. She first learned to draw and paint designs on china, but then moved to ceramics, and by 1905 had her own studio and one of her major clients was Tiffany’s flagship store on Fifth Avenue. She married another ceramicist, Frenchman Samuel E. Robineau, and they had three children: Maurice, born in 1900, Priscilla, who arrived in 1903, and a second daughter, Elizabeth (born in 1906).
But raising a family and running her own business were difficult, especially in NYC, so in 1910, the Robineaus moved to Syracuse, where they built a beautiful home/studio in the Strathmore section of the city. Adelaide Robineau taught ceramics in the Fine Arts Department of Syracuse University and edited a journal called “Keramic Studio” while also producing magnificent pieces of pottery.
Husband Samuel became an expert on ceramic modeling and sculpture.
Her work was much in demand, and particularly popular with Japanese collectors, who admired her skill with porcelain. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has pieces of her work, as do other museums around the world, but the largest collection is here in Syracuse, at the Everson Museum.
Adelaide Alsop-Robineau died suddenly in 1929, but even during her lifetime, she was recognized not only as a brilliant artist, but also, according to women’s magazines (such as Good Housekeeping in 1910) for her skill at juggling work and motherhood. All three of her children attended Syracuse University; son Maurice founded the Frontier Refining Co., which built oil pipelines around the world; when the company was sold after Maurice’s death in 1967, it was valued at over $3 million.
Daughter Priscilla was a dancer and choreographer, dancing with the Martha Graham company and then choreographing operas. Her younger sister Elizabeth was even more talented: at various times she was a dancer, a political activist (she joined the Lincoln Brigade to help the Loyalists in the Spanish Civil War), a mystery writer, an illustrator of children’s books, an environmentalist, and a very good sculptress in her own right.
While none of the family members still live in the Syracuse area, the three Robineau children, while they were alive, regularly visited the city and contributed to preserving their mother’s memory by funding the Everson Museum. They also worked to preserve the family home, known as the Robineau House, now regarded as one of the gems of the early 20th century Arts and Crafts Movement.