Professor Spates’ Exploration of Ruskin – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Professor Spates’ Exploration of Ruskin

During the 19th century, John Ruskin (1819-1900), a British writer and critic who was as famous as any of his contemporaries such as Charles Dickens, authored the highly influential book, “The Seven Lamps of Architecture” (1849). For Ruskin, what began as an interest in art, would develop into a passion for studying, critiquing and writing about architecture.

Ruskin’s keen insights were celebrated, with his work influencing such noted figures as William Morris (1834-1896), the founder of the English Arts and Crafts Movement, as well as Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915), a leader in the American Arts and Crafts Movement and founder of the Roycroft Community in East Aurora, N.Y.

From Ruskin to Roycroft, Professor of Sociology Jim Spates will discuss this interwoven and incredibly rich history during his keynote address for the annual Roycroft Campus Arts & Crafts Conference. As the keynote speaker, Spates will present, “All of Us Are Builders: The Enduring Legacy of John Ruskin’s Seven Lamps of Architecture,” at 7:15 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 18, at the Roycroft Campus in East Aurora. The presentation will focus on Ruskin’s work and the resulting influence on arts and crafts.

Each year, the conference is an opportunity for people from across the country and around the world to gather and celebrate, discuss and learn about Roycroft.

“Using Ruskin as the primary source, I will explore each of the ‘Seven Lamps,'” Spates says. “I will be illuminating his work through pictures and photographs of great examples of architecture, including drawings by Ruskin.”

Central to Spates’ presentation are Ruskin’s principles of architecture – the “Seven Lamps” – proposed in his 19th century text. The principles are Sacrifice, Truth, Power, Beauty, Life, Memory and Obedience. Spates says, the “Seven Lamps,” each significant in its own right, are what Ruskin cites as the building blocks of great architecture – the tenets that architects must adhere to in order to ensure the making of great structures. “In essence, it is the human relevance of the building which is what matters so greatly,” Spates says.

For example, Spates says Ruskin’s Sacrifice calls for doing more than what’s necessary during the building process of a structure. It’s equally – if not more – important than function. Examples of Sacrifice would be using wood for doors rather than something like steel, or taking the time to put delightful designs on the eves or porches of a building. All such “extras” cause you to sacrifice money and time. But they engage your creativity, and make the building come alive for its users or viewers in ways not possible otherwise. The great buildings along the Grand Canal in Venice, most of which are people’s homes, are one of the greatest examples of Sacrifice in the world.

On campus, Spates demonstrates the principle of sacrifice to students taking his “Sociology of the City” course by bringing them on a walking tour of the Colleges and Geneva. “Not only does this view of the area illustrate Ruskin’s principles, but it teaches the students in a way that they may never otherwise experience while they’re in Geneva,” Spates says.

Another principle of great architecture, Ruskin says, is Life. He offers that all great architecture engages the creativity of everyone involved in its creation, not just the architect. The real question to ask is, “Was the worker happy when he or she worked on the building?” If so, the life force of the worker will be embedded and able to be seen in every corner of the building. The great cathedrals of Europe are enduring examples of this principle. Most modern architecture simply “employs” its craftsworkers or construction workers and isn’t interested in their creativity. Such buildings suffer as a result.

Spates says Ruskin’s work was convincing and well-received, inspiring other great minds such as Morris, and subsequently Hubbard. These connections linked to the Arts and Crafts Movements in England and the United States, with Hubbard establishing the Roycroft Community, the cornerstone of the Arts and Crafts Movement in America.

Spates says that as a professor of sociology, he greatly appreciates the opportunities the Colleges afford faculty and students as part of the interdisciplinary inquiry at the core of the curriculum.

“Thirty years ago, I never expected that I would be able to explore and teach about architecture to the extent that I have at the Colleges,” Spates says. “This is a direct results of the kind of creative community in which we live and teach. It’s the life blood of the liberal arts. Both professors and students ‘come alive’ here because we are not doctrinaire. We encourage, as a matter of course the mixing of new ideas and growing in different directions. HWS is, in truth, an example of Ruskin’s principle of ‘Life’ in action. Everyone’s creativity is valued.”

For more information about the Roycroft Campus Arts and Crafts Conference and registration, visit:

Related Links