Rhode Island native Sydney Burleigh (1853 - 1931) continues to intrigue us decades later with his artistic accomplishments. After his Paris study during 1878 - 1880 he returned to exhibit at the Providence Art Club, teach at Rhode Island School of Design, launch the Providence Water Color Club and still managed to play tennis summers in Little Compton. However, perhaps the most unrecognized aspect of his art career is his role importing the Arts and Crafts ideal of British extraordinaire William Morris. The current Bert Gallery exhibit will explore Burleigh and his manifestation of the movement in Rhode Island from the construction of his 1885 Arts and Crafts studio building, the Fleur de Lys on Thomas Street, to his coterie of artists in the Art Workers Guild.
The Arts and Crafts movement blossomed in the United States at the turn of the century and originated with William Morris in England as a reaction to a depersonalized and mechanized urban society. Providence, a major industrial city post Civil War was ripe for these sentiments and artist S.R. Burleigh played a pivotal role inculcating these ideals in the local community. Burleigh advocated for the decorative arts and integration of fine arts and design when he returned to Rhode Island from European study in 1880.
The Bert Gallery exhibit will focus primarily on the successful watercolors of S.R. Burleigh along with documentation of local Arts and Crafts inspired projects initiated by the artist. Exhibit themes explored include Burleigh's introduction to the Arts and Crafts ideal in Europe between 1878 - 1880, his interest in decorative design resulting in the formation of an Art Workers Guild of local Providence artists in 1886, his initiation of the Providence Water Color Club and the his interplay with other Arts and Crafts Providence groups such as the Handicraft Club, local color woodcut artist Eliza Gardiner and the 1901 Providence Art Club - Arts and Crafts Exhibition.
S.R. Burleigh’s presence was pervasive in the Providence art scene from 1880 until his death in 1931. There is not a newspaper article, artist diary, club minutes or general publication that does not have mention of Burleigh involved in some significant art activity. He journeys beyond the local imagination onto a more expansive "Morrisonian" model of art culture and while he left us no personal philosophical writings, it is his numerous art artifacts that lay testimony to his contributions to the American Arts and Crafts movement.