Interior designer John Scott Bradstreet (1845-1914) arrived in Minnesota in 1874, by way of Massachusetts and Providence, Rhode Island, where he had worked at the Gorham Silver Company. From his earliest years here he was committed to providing imaginative interpretations of the latest interior decorating styles from Europe and Asia for both private and commercial clients, and by the 1890s he had developed a national reputation. With frequent trips overseas, he regularly updated his design vocabulary, while enhancing each room with European and Asian antiques and curios bought on his travels.
In 1904 Bradstreet opened his Craftshouse, loosely based on the English arts and crafts philosophy of William Morris, at 328 S. 7th Street in Minneapolis. There he marketed not only antiques and reproductions of historical styles, but also his jin-di-sugi furniture and woodwork, adapted from the Japanese technique of artificially aging and carving cypress wood. This jin-di-sugi finish became the trademark of John S. Bradstreet and Company and it is now recognized as his personal contribution to the American Arts and Crafts style.
One of Bradstreet's most important commissions was the Duluth home of William and Mina Merrill Prindle. William M. Prindle was an early developer of Duluth, heading his own real estate company and encouraging Easterners to invest in the area. Mina Prindle developed interests of her own during her husband's travels, donating land for Duluth's parks and serving as a member of the city's park board. In 1904 the couple chose William Hunt of the firm Palmer, Hall, and Hunt, as the architect of their new home. From the Twin Cities, Mina Prindle chose William A. French and John Bradstreet to decorate the interiors.
For the living room of the house, which is displayed at the MIA, Bradstreet used carved sugi
-finished wood in furniture that combined contemporary Art Nouveau ornamentation, including lotus leaves and flowers, with Queen Anne-style furniture forms.
Of the rooms in the house, the living room received the greatest attention, both financially and through Bradstreet's innovative and beautiful decoration. The shape of the room is slightly irregular. Bradstreet installed brown-toned jin-di-sugi paneling on the walls. Around the perimeter and above the fireplace are beautifully carved sugi floral panels.
Many of the forms of furniture which Bradstreet designed were based on 18th-century English or American models. However, when it came to the surface decoration, Bradstreet's interest in rich visual texture and intricate patterning emerged as stylized transformations of nature. He occasionally rendered chair legs as growing branches with jagged leaf patterns carved at the knees. Many of the flat surfaces of his pieces were elaborately carved with oversized leaves and flowers, emphasizing a love of botanical motifs.
By 1900 Bradstreet had made at least six visits to Japan and had become very familiar with Japanese woodworking techniques. Bradstreet's Japanese influence is highly visible in this room, as is evident by the Japanese floral and bird carvings on the bay opposite the fireplace, and the Japanese bird cage which was used as a decorative element. Pictures depicting Japanese subjects were also used as decoration.
One of Bradstreet's most original and successful designs was the Lotus table. This table was conceived as an aquatic plant. The roots are hidden by an array of leaves which spread out artfully, while the top of the table simulates the surface of a pond covered with leaves and lotus flowers.
While Bradstreet's interest in botanical themes and his transformation of structural elements into natural motifs does not adhere very closely to English precedents, he was strongly influenced by the American interpretation of Art Nouveau, as exemplified by the work of Louis Tiffany. Bradstreet was impressed by Tiffany's use of organic forms, and used some of Tiffany's designs in the Prindle House living room
Tiffany favrile glass is used to outline the fireplace, as well as in the elaborate shades attached to the carved wall sconces. The carved cypress chandelier is also adorned with Tiffany favrile shades.
The Prindle House living room was one of Bradstreet's most complete uses of the jin-di-sugi
style which characterized so much of his work. While Mina Prindle did add a naturalistic Japanese table and some other oriental accessories which were purchased from Bradstreet's firm, she was extremely respectful of Bradstreet's work and left the living room virtually intact until its acquisition by the Institute in 1981. The house itself was sold in 1982 to the Religious Sisters of Mercy, who have made it the home of the John Duss Music Conservatory.
For another example of Bradstreet's innovation, a fireplace that he designed for the Joseph Sellwood residence in Duluth is on view in the Bell Family Decorative Arts Court.
files from the Department of Decorative Arts, Sculpture and Architecture
MIA Bulletin, Volume LXV, 1981-1982
See the general section on giving tours of the Period Rooms.