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,
says NICK WRIGHT.
- La Belle Iseult by William Morris (1858) (elysesnow.wordpress.com)
- William Morris book design determines undergraduate reading habits (Rousse) (dreamaticus.org)
- Book Review: Textiles of the Arts and Crafts Movement by Linda Parry (significantseams.wordpress.com)
- Bored of the Pre-Raphaelites? Head straight to William Morris (daily-norm.com)