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Study and Implementation: Mrs. Watts S. Humphrey and the Saginaw Art Club’s Annual Arts and Crafts Exhibition  

“Arts and crafts day was observed by the Saginaw Art Club Wednesday afternoon at its meeting in the new Y.M.C.A. building. There was good attendance of members despite unfavorable elements and great interest was shown in the fine exhibition, which was carefully inspected. At 4 o’clock Miss Florence Kober gave a very instructive talk on the Arts and Crafts movement in America. Mrs. Watts S. Humphrey will speak this afternoon at 4 o’clock on the use of semi-precious stones in hand-wrought jewelry.”  

-The Saginaw Daily News, November 7, 1912. 


Mrs. Watts S. Humphrey was a gifted musician and was passionate about the arts. She was dedicated to transforming her community. Last year we explored her pivotal role in a campaign for pure milk. This link will take you to the earlier post.


This year we focus on another organization in which Mrs. Humphrey was active, the Saginaw Art Club, and the group’s annual Arts and Crafts Exhibition.  

Founded in Saginaw City -today’s westside - in 1886, the Saginaw Art Club started as a rather informal gathering for studying the visual arts. As the club matured, according to James C. Mills, it “became a recognized factor in the intellectual life of the city. In 1896 the club was Federated, and in the following year it was duly incorporated with twenty nine members.”  Mills continued, “The papers given at the meetings of the club were prepared with unusual care and thoroughness and rendered even more interesting by the exhibition of art pictures and lantern slide views, bearing directly on the subjects treated.”   Initially, the goals seemed to be for social and for personal edification. However, by the late nineteenth century, the club’s programing came to include public engagement and education. Perhaps, of all the club’s activities, none was more intriguing than their annual Arts and Crafts Exhibition. 

The Exhibition exalted handcrafted work; however, the Saginaw Art Club’s annual Arts and Crafts Exhibition was quite different from what we think of today as an art and crafts show. It showcased an all-encompassing design movement – a movement transcending architecture and furniture and embracing a way of life. We will send you to other sources for further exploration of the Arts and Crafts Movement, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art.(For a few visual examples of furniture think Gustav Stickley’s Craftsman furniture, mission-style furniture, Rookwood pottery and closer to home, Detroit’s Pewabic pottery.) 


The first Arts and Crafts Exhibition sponsored by the Saginaw Art Club was held on November 7, 1904 – the same year that the famed Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts was founded. The Saginaw exhibition included furniture and decorative arts from Gustav Stickley’s Craftsman Shops. A highlight was a public lecture by George Wharton James,* the editor of The Craftsman, a magazine founded by Stickley. On November 8, The Saginaw Evening News reported: 


“The Art club has done much for Saginaw in the past; will do more doubtless in the future; but it has never conferred a greater favor than in giving the public the opportunity of hearing George Wharton James, who lectured  this morning on the ‘The Ideal Home and its Decorative Art.’” 


The article quoted James at length: 


“He said that he felt almost a feeling of trepidation in standing before his audience for he felt the subject of the Ideal Home was as profound as any that he had ever confronted as a minister entrusted with the care of souls. ‘ Where ever we are, God is life, is religion, and the ceremonies of the churches but the aids to life. Life itself, the life we live, is the real life, The home that is the cradle of the life of children is the most prominent place in the world and should have our best efforts.” 


After noting that James affirmed stereotypical gender roles – 


“Mr. James laid much stress on the value of simplicity of honesty. ‘Ideals differ, but there is one basic principle to which all ideas can be referred, structural simplicity and honesty. We must aim at perfection, even though we know we cannot reach perfection. We must avoid shams and pretense above all things. Horrible indeed if the things of life are shams.’ 


Mr. James was especially severe on the artificiality that would lead an American citizen to buy with money that to which he was not rightfully entitled and which was not appropriate to his life.” 


After commenting on the quality of the images used to illustrate the lecture, the paper lauded the event: “No one should miss the opportunity of seeing the exhibit which has been secured at the cost of much trouble and expense. The beautiful textiles and articles of furniture come largely from the Craftsman Shops at Syracuse, N.Y., of which Mr. James is the representative and Gustav Stickley, the editor of The Craftsman, is the head.”  The perceptive reader was reminded that there was a transactional aspect to Mr. James’ lecture. He was in Saginaw not only to promote a lifestyle – but to sell the company’s wares. 


For about a decade, the Arts and Craft Exhibitions were held each November. Each brought to Saginaw nationally prominent leaders of the Arts and Crafts Movement. 


“It is a well known fact that for several years past the art exhibits in Saginaw have had an important part in developing those inclined along those lines to greater efforts and so it is true with the handiwork of craftsmen. Because of the general response among the residents of the city promoters of exhibits have found little difficulty in securing the best work in eastern and middle western centers. (The Saginaw Daily News, November 5, 1912.) 

The Saginaw Art Club was able to attract national leaders of design as exhibitors and speakers and they utilized the skills of their own members. Often local members of the club and community were included in the program. Such was the case in 1912. When, “Mrs. Watts S. Humphrey gave an excellent address at the Auditorium of the Y.M.C.A. Thursday afternoon regarding the use of precious and semi-precious stones in the arts and crafts work of the present day.”  the article continued: 


“At 4 o’clock Mrs. Humphrey commenced her talk, which lasted for an hour. She explained the various kind of stone available for arts and crafts work, and with the use of Miss Florence Kober’s collection illustrated possibilities of beauty by combination, etc.” (The Saginaw Daily News, November 8, 1912.)  


Mrs. Humphrey opened 1911 with a powerful lecture about creating an ordinance to safeguard Saginaw’s Milk supply through the Saginaw Federation of Clubs and closed the year with a lecture about creating jewelry for the Saginaw Art Club. Her two lectures highlight the diversity of her interests, and more importantly, they testify to the empowerment and effectiveness of the Saginaw Federation of Clubs. The Saginaw Federation, affiliated with the state and national federations, was formed in 1897 “for the purpose of uniting the women’s clubs of the city in any work for civic betterment and improvement that conditions may suggest.” **  


There is much more to explore about the rich history of the Saginaw Art Club and their annual Arts and Crafts Exhibitions. The Local History and Genealogy Collection at Hoyt Library preserves the Saginaw Art Clubs’ archives. While the organization’s records preserve the diversity of the club’s offerings, they provide few details about the annual exhibitions.  


*George Wharton James Saginaw visits included additional public lectures. He seems to have been in Michigan promoting the ideals of an arts and crafts life and developing markets for his magazine, The Craftsman and ware from Stickley’s Craftsman workshops. In the following days he would give a series of lectures at the Ladies Literary Club in Grand Rapids.  


**The Saginaw Daily News, May 1, 1911, p.2. 


The Recipe: Mrs. Watts S. Humphrey’s  Salad Dressing Without Oil 


Two raw eggs, 1 tablespoon butter, 8 tablespoons vinegar, ½ teaspoon dry mustard, Put in a bowl over tea-kettle, and stir till creamy, Season to taste with salt, pepper and sugar. Thin with ½ cup cream, either sweet or sour and whipped if sufficiently thick. Strain before adding the whipped cream.  

-Mrs. Watts S. Humprey, The Saginaw Cookbook, published by First Congregational Church, 1929 edition.  

CTK Interpretation: 


2 raw eggs

1 Tablespoon butter

8 Tablespoons cider vinegar  

½ teaspoons dry mustard

2 + Tablespoons sugar

salt to taste

pepper to taste  

½  cup sour cream or ½ cup heavy whipping cream


Place eggs, butter, mustard, vinegar in upper portion of double boiler. Stir while heating. When thickened, pour through strainer into a bowl. Add sugar, salt, pepper, and sour cream (or whipped cream). Whisk until combined. 



The base sauce portion of this recipe is closely related to a Hollandaise sauce. The recipe is straightforward and honest – unlike most Hollandaise sauce recipes– and admits the sauce will curdle and directs the cook to strain it.  


Overall, it has a very nice texture; however, the dominant flavor is vinegar. You might consider adding more sugar, trying another type of vinegar, or reducing the amount of vinegar. We used sour cream. Whipped cream might provide a better counterpoint. Then again, one might want a little less vinegar. 


The CTK staff used it to dress a very 21st century lettuce salad. As a dressing for a celery, potato, or chicken salad it may be interesting. Although we hate to repeat ourselves – however, then again one might want a little less vinegar.  


While the CTK team believes this recipe has merits, we encourage you to experiment with it before serving and will repeat:  one might want a little less vinegar. 


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