I knew who William Morris was way before I knew who he was. Like Impressionist painters, his influence and style had shown up in historic homes on school field trips, on wrapping paper and tablecloths and it was part of the backdrop of design in my world. When I moved to London, I knew a little bit about him and the Arts and Crafts Movement that he started, but I still had not looked closely at his life or work. I had not examined it from the perspective of a textile artist.
Being in London was the perfect opportunity to embrace textile design from its rich and dramatic history to its contemporary trends and technologies. It was 2001, I was about to turn 40, and it was the point in time when I decided to give up my career as a social worker and commit to my passion for fiber arts, textile design, and sewing. I decided to make textiles the focus of that year. I even wrote a book about it that I still have failed to get published. One of my heros and inspirations was William Morris.
I went and saw his works at the Victoria and Albert Museum. I got a book about him for Christmas and devoured the whole thing. There were three landmarks related to his life that I wanted to go to: Elm House (where he was born and which is now a William Morris museum), Woodford Hall (where he grew up in the Epping Forrest) apparently only a memorial plaque now, and Merton Abbey (where the print works were).
For lack of determination, energy and a good raincoat, I found it difficult to tackle all the adventures that were possible in that year. Somewhere between finding my way around, making friends, shlepping two small children to and from school on foot, researching, writing, and being a tourist, I ended the year with those places on my "next time" list. I did manage to go to the W.M. museum two years later and it was small but magical. The other two are still waiting but I don't think they are going anywhere.
Morris was inspired by designs in nature. Flowers and animals figure greatly in his work. At a time when the industrial revolution was booming, he and his cohorts advocated and lived by a philosophy of simplicity, connection to the earth, and fulfillment through working with ones hands. This was the Arts and Crafts Movement. His talents were applied to practical, tactile arts such as book printing, home decor textiles and wall paper, and ceramic tiles and pottery. He was political and published writings on his social philosophies.
He was successful in selling his products to wealthy home owners and his designs were bought and reproduced by Liberty of London. Liberty is still using many of these designs which are now classics. One of the most famous is "The Strawberry Thief" with birds and strawberries. He was influenced by Indian and Asian arts as well as Medieval art and style.
Above are some images of works inspired by or incorporating William Morris' designs. There is also a photo of the W.M. museum. From the top: The museum; a beautiful embroidery based on a W.M. design by Hands of Hope on etsy; a handmade journal by Straw House Books on etsy; a knitting bag made of W.M. print fabric by 1Elephant on etsy; The Strawberry Thief, by W.Morris off google images; The dude himself.
William Morris was a true artist who believed in the importance of beauty and creativity in everyday life. He valued crafts such as embroidery, print-making and pottery as much, if not more than, so called "fine art". He had a whole community of friends, philosophers and artisans that he worked with and with whom he created a movement. His life and work are an inspiration to me.