A Home on the Hill for Handicrafts

In 1904, ten women gathered together, led by former school teacher Julia Lippitt Mauran, to form a club in Providence devoted to “the promotion of interest in all kinds of handicraft and to provide a place where such work could be done.” This was, in part, a response to the growing interest in hand crafted design sweeping the country in the later decades of the 19th century, which saw the establishment of the first American arts and crafts society, founded in Boston in 1897.

In a report on the arts and crafts convention held in Boston in 1907, Mary Parsons, president of the Handicraft Club from 1904 – 1909, emphasized the crucial role of the Club in creating a center of activity for those interested in arts and crafts in Providence. Thus, the Club’s embattled search for a permanent home in the first ten years of its existence caused a great deal of alarm amongst its officers and members alike. Between 1904 and 1925 the Club had to move premises four times. This begun with informal meetings at the Froebal School, where Julia Mauran had been a teacher, and a brief period at Maxcy House at 7 Cushing Street, to a twelve year stint at the Truman Beckwith House, 42 College Street, from 1907 to 1919. They were forced to move again when the House was rented to another party, at which point they established what they thought would be their permanent home in Mitchell House, 227 Benefit Street, only to return to Beckwith House for good in 1925.

With the purchase of Beckwith House, the Club also took on the responsibility of preserving the historic building, designed by the architect John Holden Greene, and completed in 1826. Renovations included extensive redecoration, and the installation of a bow window in the south wall of the carriage house, the first floor of which was occupied by the workshop and showroom for the miniature furniture company, Tynietoy, established by Club members Marion Perkins and Amey Vernon in 1917.

Through providing the equipment required for crafts such as metalwork and book binding, among many others, and in encouraging the entrepreneurial activities of its members, the Club brought such endeavors out of the home and into a more public arena, endowing these women with a sense of pride and accomplishment in the skills they gained and the crafts they produced. In addition to offering classes and lectures by external practitioners from a wide range of geographic and disciplinary backgrounds, the Club served as a site in which women could exchange ideas and draw inspiration and knowledge from one another. The Club also staged exhibitions of members’ work, which were open to the public, and thus encouraged an interest in and support for handicrafts within the local community. During both first and second World Wars the Club devoted much energy to the war effort, knitting socks and scarves for the Red Cross and raising money for their Red Cross Unit by selling craft items.

The Club remains active in the community to this day, maintaining a strong sense of its heritage. In an effort to preserve the work of Perkins and Vernon, the Club acquired a Tynietoy dollhouse in 2013, and is still in the process of furnishing the Colonial style mansion with Tynietoy furniture. Thus, the Club continues its dual mission of promoting an interest in handicraft and historic preservation.

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42 College St, Providence, RI 02903