William Morris museum in London

This video is called William Morris: British Avant-Garde Designer.

By Keith Flett in England:

Less is Morris

Tuesday 04 September 2012

William Morris is one of the best-known figures in the modern history of the British left.

He came quite late in life to socialist politics but when he did so, he typically threw himself into it, first as part of the Marxist Social Democratic Federation and then as a key figure in the Socialist League.

His socialist writings are voluminous but he is perhaps best known for News From Nowhere, a novel which tries to imagine what a future socialist society would look like.

Morris is also very well known as a designer, as part of the Arts and Craft movement and for some as a producer of patterned wallpapers.

There remains however only one national museum dedicated to Morris‘s life and work, and that is the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow, north-east London.

The gallery has just reopened after a major refurbishment. It is set in a house that Morris actually lived in as a young man in the 1840s and ’50s.

Morris‘s family being well to do, the house is of some substance, set in substantial grounds which are now Lloyd Park.

The museum has been there for a good while and some readers may well have made a visit or two over the years.

In its previous incarnation it was a rather fusty and cramped exhibition area with a quite small section given over to Morris’s politics.

Much has changed both in terms of the museum’s layout and in the way it deals with his life.

It tries to understand Morris in the round, showing aspects of his life fitted into his central concerns. That means his ideas and politics, once peripheral, now take centre stage.

The first room on the left as one enters looks at Morris’s early life and has on the walls quotes from authorities on him, including from EP Thompson‘s 1955 biography.

Other rooms on the ground floor, now light and airy, look at the craft and design aspect of his life and work.

We do indeed see examples of the wallpapers sold by Morris and Co in their Oxford Street shop and some of the furniture he designed.

Alongside this is an idea of the techniques that Morris used in his factory and his insistence that it was a decent place to work – not a sweatshop.

However – and this is where the new gallery’s integrated approach to Morris’s life and politics hits home – care is taken to show how his love of good design and craft production led him to left-wing political conclusions.

So Morris was concerned that the items of beauty that his factory produced were out of reach to working people by virtue of cost. He determined to do something about that.

Likewise he often opined that the houses of the rich that he won commissions to furnish were often full of vulgar things that would be better off thrown away.

On the first floor there is a room dedicated to Morris’s love of books, as well as one that looks at the arts and craft movement.

Perhaps of particular interest to many Star readers however is the room now dedicated the political aspects of his life.

In the old museum this was a quite limited space. Now photographs and documents from his socialist years are well presented and there is a short film with various authorities on Morris discussing what his politics were and the impact that he made.

On top of that the museum now has a great new cafe area and a gallery for temporary exhibitions.

Get along when you can. It’s free and well worth the trip.

William Morris – beauty and anarchy in the UK. Morris’s ideas about ‘art for the people’ have exerted a powerful influence for more than a century. A new exhibition examines his legacy – from garden cities to Conran: here.

Resonant notes from a founding father of anti-capitalism. There’s much to learn from the socialist diary of William Morris,

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William Morris exhibition in London

This video is called John Ruskin & William Morris Aesthetics; documentary by Peter Fuller.

By Joe Dwyer in England:

A chance to look again at ‘news from now, here’

The exhibition “News From Nowhere revisited” examines William Morris’s visionary novel, News From Nowhere.

Artist Brian Daubney and American architect Jeremiah Sheehan discover how much of modern London was envisaged in Morris’s book. They use his words on images from the time until now.

In News From Nowhere, Morris’s hero meets an historian who provides the link between the present and the possible future. “Old Hammond” remembers the revolution (which Morris sets in 1952).

Morris wanted the book to “add a little hope to the struggle”. The exhibition has a similar aim, in a way.

In the book the hero asks Hammond, “Tell me one thing, if you can … Did the change, the ‘revolution’ it used to be called, come peacefully?”

“Peacefully?” comes the reply, “What peace was there amongst those poor confused wretches of the nineteenth century?

“It was war from beginning to end: bitter war, till hope and pleasure put an end to it.”

Trafalgar Square is where the revolution starts—it is then turned into a cherry orchard. But it has continued as a place of demonstration. One of the panels in the exhibition shows demonstrations then and now.

Brian Daubney, the exhibition’s co-curator, spoke to Socialist Worker.

“Morris hated the plinths in Trafalgar Square,” he said. “But he would have loved the people on the fourth plinth at the minute.”

According to Daubney, “Morris set the book future in 2100. For instance, kites have just come back to the Thames Valley.

“When Morris wrote, the kites and the birds of prey had gone because they had all been shot for game. But almost a century before he thought it would happen, they are back.

“I started to draw a list of similar predictions and stopped at 150. …

“In the novel he quotes ‘A song of a shirt’, a bitter attack on piece-work, full of puns. Morris loved puns.

“The book is not about Utopia. In a sense it is ‘news from now, here’.

“He was an embarrassment to the founders of the Labour Party. And he is an embarrassment to Labour now.” …

“It is not about putting pretty patterns on ornaments. His attitudes were about changing the world. Anyone who comes into contact with Morris’s work is changed by it.”

News From Nowhere Revisited by Brian Daubney and Jeremiah Sheehan. 15 August–27 September 2009, William Morris Gallery & Vestry House Museum, Walthamstow, London

The crucial impact of Marx on William Morris: here.

Reading list of Marxist art theory: here.

William Morris against British imperial wars

This is a video about William Morris and his art.

From British daily The Morning Star:

Morris speech fills the gap

(Sunday 10 August 2008)

William Morris‘s Our Country Right or Wrong, A Critical Edition ed. Florence S Boos
(William Morris Society, £7)

THIS little book deserves to be on the bookshelf of every socialist and peace campaigner. Apart from in the huge Collected Works, it has not so far been seen in any other selection. It last appeared in one of the issues of The Journal of Pre-Raphaelite Studies.

Morris wrote this essay as a speech which he was to deliver to a mainly Liberal audience in 1880. This was before he had crossed his “river of fire” to become a socialist.

We know exactly when he finished it, as he signed it 2.30am, January 30 1880. This was after disastrous and bloody campaigns in South Africa and Afghanistan.

Professor Boos is a Professor of Victorian Studies at the University of Iowa and she edited and annotated Morris’s Socialist Diary for Journeyman Press in 1975. Her introduction to this latest book, Dystopian Violence, shows how the British peace movement prepared working-class activists from peace and solidarity movements for the socialist movement, which was to flourish in the 1880s.

What Morris had to say in this essay is sadly not out of date. He observes how war not only damages people but corrupts nations.

He shows how an imperialist country needs an enemy. In Morris’s day, Russia was replacing France in that role. Today, it looks as if Iran is about to have that honour.

Morris shows in this a desire for a more decent society without poverty, unemployment or overwork. It was not to be a big step from this essay to his membership of the socialist movement.

The William Morris Society is to be congratulated for making this hitherto hidden essay available. It fills the gap between romantic and revolutionary.

Available for £7.50 including p&p from William Morris Society, 26 Upper Mall, Hammersmith, London W6 9TA.