Thursday, 2 May 2013

The Wonderful Creativity of William Morris

I've long been an admirer of William Morris (1834-1896),  his amazing creativity, intelligence, industriousness is mind-boggling.  There is probably no other man as this great arts & crafts designer, medievalist, artist, poet, who worked as hard as he on creating beautiful things, for he had a profound love of beauty and sought for it all around him.  I adore his statement:  "Have nothing in your houses which you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful."  He experimented and tried his hand at every craft used in his productions,  which sometimes resulted in him going about with indigo-dyed arms and hands!  He studied architecture, did drawing and painting, embroidery, weaving, stained glass,designed fabrics, wallpapers, tiles, furniture etc.., wrote enormous tomes of romance and fantasy and poetry, created The Kelmscott Press, which made finely bound books of great beauty.  He was also a great historian from childhood and would have been more happily at home in medieval times (he was greatly dismissive of the Victorian era in which he lived),  and did some Icelandic exploring inspired by his love of old Norse literature.  He was drawn to the elements and ideas of antiquity, one of his favourite books was The Antiquary by Sir Walter Scott, indeed Scott and Chaucer were among his favourite authors, and he greatly admired old cathedrals, tapestries and languages.

In his first lecture, "The Lesser Arts", he stated that: "Well I remember as a boy, my first acquaintance with a room hung with faded greenery at Queen Elizabeth's Lodge by Chingford Hatch in Epping Forest...and the impression of romance that made upon me!  a feeling that always comes back on me when I read, as I often do, Sir Walter Scott's 'Antiquary' and come to the description of the Green Room at Monkbarns amongst which the novelist has with such exquisite cunning of art embedded the fresh and glittering verses of the summer poet Chaucer."

William Morris was concerned with making everything more pleasing to the eye, which included bringing back traditional crafts made by hand by true craftsmen as in the middle ages, at a time when Victorian mass production was growing. 

William's verses embroidered on his bed hangings at his beloved home Kelmscott, conjure up the comforting atmosphere he promoted:

The wind's on the wold
And the night is a-cold,
And Thames runs chill
Twixt mead and hill,
But kind and dear
Is the old house here,
And my heart is warm
Midst winter's harm.

I have several large books on William's art, and two on Edward Burne-Jones (who was his best friend), on one bookshelf together; but several of the smaller-sized books I had elsewhere (tucked behind other books in another bookcase, as I never have enough shelves to have everything together properly), and so the other day got all those books out to look at them and realised how much I have to read.


I am presently reading a fascinating Morris biography by Philip Henderson, but I've yet to start on the huge Fiona MacCarthy biography I bought years ago...something to look forward to.  William Morris has been a strong inspiration for me artistically, and I wish I could fill my house with his fabrics and designs and curtain every window with vintage Morris curtains,  but, I do have two pairs of Morris curtains and a tapestry and cushions, etc..., and they are treasured objects.

"His last years were spent writing prose romances in a strange archaic language, collecting illuminated manuscripts, designing books on medieval models, and, after producing a Chaucer at the Kelmscott Press, was well on the way to a great edition of Berners' translation of Froissart.  To that extent, Morris never succeeded in escaping from his medieval dream."  (Philip Henderson)
*missing photos will be replaced soon* 

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