The phrase “The Joy of Life is Doing Things” comes from the California School of Arts and Crafts summer session catalog from 1912. When Frederick Meyer, a German-born cabinetmaker and art teacher, founded the college four years prior, he sought to create a school rooted in the practical education model of the arts and crafts movement and Bauhaus philosophy, emphasizing the value of fine design.

The college began in Berkeley with 43 students and three teachers: Meyer, Isabelle Percy West, and Perham Nahl. Xavier Martinex joined the faculty later that year. Meyer’s wife, Laetitia, served as secretary. By 1921 the building could not accommodate the curriculum required and class sizes. Seeking a new campus where he could build all of the school amenities he desired, Frederick Meyer purchased the site at Broadway and Clifton Street for $60,000 in 1922 and received four acres of rough, overgrown land and the three Treadwell estate buildings. Meyer and his family moved into the third story of the mansion (now Macky Hall) and renovated the lower floors as classrooms. Despite a lack of formal architectural training, Meyer’s woodworking skills, design experience, and time spent in a San Jose architect’s office enabled him to plan and execute the renovation as well as design and construct new buildings. Supported by the labor of the school’s students, who received discounted tuition in exchange for their efforts, Meyer cleared the gnarled site and improved on the landscape.

In 1922, the school became a non-profit institution with a governing board of trustees. The newly chartered CSAC was described as the second accredited art college in the country in 1922, and one of four degree-granting art programs in 1926. Over 50 different subjects were taught, organized into three professional programs: applied arts, arts education, and fine arts. Classes in design, illustration, commercial design, photography, printmaking, and interior design led students to careers as factory designers, commercial artists, art teachers, and set and costume designers in the emerging motion picture industry in Los Angeles and established a national reputation for its design programs. In 1936, CSAC would change its name to the California College of Arts and Crafts along with receiving a major accreditation and founding several of its programs still active today such as Ceramics, Jewelry / Metal arts, Painting/Drawing, Photography, Printmaking, and Sculpture.

Looking back at CCA’s foundational decades from the Berkeley years to its beginnings in Oakland, The Joy of Life is Doing Things explores what the founders and the first students were doing: making in the studios, building the campus, creating a community, and laying the foundations of an enduring dedication to craft, industriousness, and community responsibility that we still find present in our institutional culture today.