By 1900, the Arts and Crafts movement was taking root in southeastern Pennsylvania with its adherents celebrating the handcrafted object and emphasizing the importance of art and craft as a path to a better life. During the early decades of the twentieth century, Bucks County became a center for the production of hand-carved frames produced by Frederick W. Harer and Bernard Badura, handcrafted wooden and wrought-iron furnishings by Morgan Colt, and stained glass by George Sotter. Woodworker George Nakashima settled in New Hope in the 1940s, where he established a studio and a reputation as a leading member of the first generation of American studio furniture makers while he produced furniture forms that respected the natural forms of the tree and showcased the wood’s natural properties. Reacting against post-World War II factory-made furniture, such Bucks County craftsmen as Phillip Lloyd Powell, Paul Evans, and Robert Whitley began producing unique custom-designed functional furniture that blurred the traditional boundaries between craft, sculpture, and design. By the 1960s, Phillip Lloyd Powell was creating carved and sculpted furniture featuring his signature deep-carved technique that followed the grain of the wood and highlighted its irregularities. Paul Evans was combining his experience as a silversmith with his interest in utilizing new technology and materials to create distinctive metal furniture with sculpted high relief abstract forms. As early as the 1970s, craftsman and sculptor Mark Sfirri began experimenting with multiaxis turnings to produce furniture and, subsequently, eccentrically turned wall sculptures.
Since 1993, museum visitors have experienced the atmosphere of a traditional Japanese-style room in the George Nakashima Memorial Reading Room with furnishings and room environment designed by Mira Nakashima-Yarnall, daughter of George Nakashima. Intelligent Design, the Michener’s long-term installation of studio craft, highlights regional studio craft from its earliest beginnings to the diversity of expression today. The exhibition features work from the studio shops of such makers and designers as Frederick Harer, Wharton Esherick, George Nakashima, Mira Nakashima-Yarnall, Phillip Lloyd Powell, Paul Evans, David Ellsworth, Mark Sfirri and Robert Dodge, Toshiko Takaezu, Robert Winokur, and Matthias Pliessnig.