Blog

To explore how William Morris’s legacy continues into the twenty-first century we have invited a number of modern makers to respond to the exhibition and explain how his vision and values connect to their own practice.


Michael Ruh

06/01/2015

Michael Ruh
Glass-maker

The portraits and few artefacts contained in Anarchy & Beauty made me more acutely aware of Morris' sense of purpose, drive and near missionary-like zeal to impress upon us and convert us to knowing the power of beauty to transform lives. The Arts and Crafts movement was more than intentional design and the perfection of skill. It was a socially revolutionary movement, intended to give voice to the worker and maker, and integrate ones life's work into a way of being, rather than an occupation. It is very much this aspect that has influenced my life. I sometimes describe the practice of my vocation as something akin to being a glass-making monk.  In my life, there are few, if no boundaries between my work and other aspects of my life. Glass-making is what I do, and what I am.

William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement resonate in my own practice. The movement brought about “an end to false distinctions between work and leisure in a world in which work itself was seen as joyous." Although at times tiring, there is very little else I would rather be doing than working in my studio. Even at the end of a strenuous day of making I often have the sense I have not quite yet accomplished what I set out to achieve, and with each piece I have made there is an urgency to make another and to develop my ideas further into tangible objects. 

Probably the most inspirational object for me in the exhibition was Morris’ satchel. Adorned only by the patina of its continual use, I felt Morris' great sense of purpose, the intention of his undertaking, and his zealous mission. It was doubtless both his humble companion and tool: a fully integrated and defining object within his life.

michaelruh.com
@Michael_Ruh


Lucille Junkere

19/12/2014

Lucille Junkere
Textile Artist

I learnt about William Morris and his indigo-dyed textiles in school. I was fascinated by how an ordinary looking plant could produce such a magnificent blue dye, not to mention the magical alchemy of the dye process. That introduction inspired my own indigo journey which led me to being selected as artist in residence at the William Morris Gallery for 2014. My residency is, of course, all about Morris and his relationship with this wonderful colour.

When I walked into the exhibition, it was Ethel Mairet's work that caught my attention. Her natural dye book was my first on the subject. Her extensive list of natural dye-producing plants is still an invaluable reference for textile artists who, like me, are concerned about the environment, waste and disposable fashion. Her exhibition piece, an elegant, understated hand-woven silk jacket celebrates her expertise in weaving and using natural dyes which have aged beautifully. It is hard to believe the jacket is nearly a hundred years old; a friend of mine said she would wear it now. The little finishing touches are exquisite, particularly the hand-turned wooden buttons where the grain is visible pulled together with traditional hand embroidered button hoops and indigo dyed accents. It’s a lovely piece and a memorable exhibition.

Read Lucille’s blog


Sasha Ward

16/12/2014

Sasha Ward
Stained Glass Artist

This small embroidered rectangle by May Morris is the best representation of the River Thames at Kelmscott that I have seen. I love the dense overlapping stitches she used to show the plants and the flat landscape beside the water. I spent last summer drawing along the banks of the river and in Kelmscott Manor, the Morris’ country home just a stone’s throw away. The huge expressive stitches on the embroidered hangings in the Manor gave me an incredible sense of the presence of William Morris, his wife Jane and their daughters Jenny and May. I wondered whether they would have approved of what I was doing there as Artist in Residence as I found my own way of depicting the house and garden in the melancholy Oxfordshire landscape.

I usually work to commission on projects that have taken me all over the British Isles and that have led me to consider the “sense of place” as my main subject matter. I started my career in stained glass and have also designed and made screens, floors, wallpapers and other features for interiors, so it is not surprising that I have always been interested in the work of Morris & Co. You can see how the patterns he drew from have a source and an appeal that is timeless, cross cultural and for a modern designer, sometimes feel inescapable.

When it comes to their stained glass, I was always asking myself why the Pre-Raphaelites were so backward-looking. But the more I learn about William Morris, the more I see him as a great but unconventional scholar, who believed that by looking closely at the past we could learn lessons that would lead to a better future. There is a clear path from the medieval inspired stained glass of Morris & Co. to the exciting new architectural glass of the twentieth century and the training that I received in three English art schools. When I look at windows that are more than five hundred years old and marvel at how much better they are than most modern glass, I hope to learn their lessons and help to move the art form forwards.

sashaward.co.uk


Zarah Hussain

Zarah Hussain with portrait of Eleanor Marx
by Grace Black, 1881
© National Portrait Gallery

Zarah Hussain

Annie Besant
by Herbert Rose Barraud, 1891
© National Portrait Gallery

25/11/2014

Zarah Hussain
Artist

When visiting Anarchy & Beauty, I expected to be inspired by Morris’s textiles and wallpapers; however walking through the gallery, I was most struck by Morris’s relationship with women.

Often the image of Morris is of a stern Victorian figure with a big bushy beard and voluminous hair, a little bit intimidating and perhaps with a difficult personality. Visiting this exhibition showed me a different side to Morris, and one that had not really been apparent to me before. At this time, women did not have the right to vote and many things we take for granted today were not available to most women at that time.

Morris took up the cause of women’s emancipation and worked closely with lots of strong, independent women. He had strong friendships with radical and revolutionary women of the day including Eleanor Marx and Sylvia Pankhurst. What came across for me was Morris’s passion for social reform. He was motivated by a keenly held belief in justice and fairness and was prepared to stand up and campaign for his beliefs, even if they were unpopular or unfashionable. He was a true rebel of his age.

In the exhibition, the picture that really caught my attention was the image of Annie Besant, a formidable character by all accounts. She was a socialist, women’s rights campaigner and theosophist. Most interestingly, from my point of view, she campaigned for Indian independence and was eventually elected to the Indian National Congress. Morris was full of admiration for her: ‘Mrs. Besant has been acting like a brick’.

I am an artist and of Pakistani heritage, so I am deeply impressed by Annie Besant’s passion and the way that she devoted herself to campaigning for Indian Independence from the British. In 1917, Annie was even imprisoned for her efforts! In the context of her time, it took a lot of courage and an acute sense of personal justice to campaign for something that went against the political and economic interests of the state.

zarahhussain.co.uk
@zarahkhussain


7/11/2014

Izzy Parker
Designer

The first piece in the exhibition that struck me was a 1988 caricature by Sir Edward Burne-Jones of Morris sitting at a tapestry loom demonstrating how to weave. This was part of a programme of educational lectures open to the public. Morris said that developing high-warp weaving techniques had been his “bright dream” for years. It was great to see an illustration showing Morris getting his hands dirty, and teaching his craftsmanship skills to others. A crafting element is key to my own design process: I need to be hands-on, my ideas and concepts developing as I explore new materials to work with.

In 2013 I spent over 300 hours creating a huge piece of jewellery called Tactile Treatment. I combined hand-weaving and pattern-cutting techniques to fashion a wearable cape from thousands of acupuncture needles. This piece asked whether the materiality and form of body-ware can encourage and influence social interaction and affect how we communicate with one another. This picture of Morris brought back the memory of all those hours obsessively working hunched over at my own hand-made loom.

My favourite piece from this show is Abram Games Festival of Britain poster. Many consider Morris’s ideals of “Art for the People” to have been one of the central inspirations to the planning of the Festival in 1951. For me this poster represents the power of community within art: over eight million people visited the exhibition, and it is thought to have encouraged contemporary designers to continue Morris’s mission, to bring the highest standards of design within reach of everyone.

Within my own practice I am always concerned with the accessibility of my work: I try to offset the time-consuming hand-crafted one off-pieces with cheaper-priced work and interactive installations, so that people can take part in my projects. Communication is key to my practice, and it’s important to me that my work is respected by a wide range of people from different backgrounds, not just from within the “art and design bubble”. For example, I am currently developing a new body of work that I plan to showcase through a series of short films. This way, I will hopefully be able to explore my ideas in a medium that can be accessed by all, and not just within a gallery context.

Izzy is a London-based designer inspired by cultural anthropology. You can watch her most recent project, Tactile Treatment, here. This film was showcased at the Vaults Gallery, London, during the London Design Festival 2014.

izzyparker.com
@IzzyIzzyParker


30/10/2014

Jo Davies
Ceramicist

When I look at this image of Katharine Pleydell-Bouverie at her throwing-wheel I find it reflects my imagined vision of my own distant future – still working, hopefully wizened, definitely still committed to making. Fundamentally this is of a person who has making under her skin; whilst the studio-paraphernalia is scattered, her focus is singular. My own ceramic practice is sometimes chaotic inside the studio, all attention on the one object that is being made, honing clarity into its design and form, forcing all other tools, clay-remnants and supporting objects into the status of ‘clutter’. Pleydell-Bouverie represents a now historical time that confronted mass-production in its entirety, a movement popularised by Morris and advocated in the ceramics world by Bernard Leach. This was a time that set mass-production against craft.

Pleydell-Bouverie was Leach’s first apprentice in the 1920’s. Their belief was that all aspects of their work should be done by the individual potter – from digging the clay and making the glazes from raw materials (which should be harvested locally) to gathering and chopping the wood for the kiln’s 36 hour firing. Many potters of this kind were independently wealthy, much like Morris himself, and Pleydell-Bouverie was no exception. In part her wealth allowed her to hold these paradoxically luxurious views. It also allowed her time to imagine, to think of each pot as experimental.

My experience as a London ceramicist in the early 21st century is quite different. I accept technologies that make my life easier. My creative decisions are guided by function and practicality, by beauty and an object just looking ‘right’. There’s a strong work-ethic in my studio-practice, that art must pay the bills, that there should be enjoyment of something I’m making. In this way I am a designer, making for an audience whose opinion is equally as important as my way of working and in this way I am a product of my own generation. Morris brought craft forward in his time by being selectively exclusive of contemporary technologies, now selective inclusion is our way forward.

jo-davies.com
@JoDaviesCeramic

Purchase a selection of Jo Davies’s ceramics from Gallery shops or online.
Enter our competition to win a handmade porcelain vase by Jo Davies here.


24/10/2014

Ed Hall
Banner Maker

It is common for me to be in a trade union office talking about a new banner and be surrounded by Walter Crane engravings, the work of stained-glass artist Mary Lowndes and William Morris quotations. In September I made a banner for the car workers of Dagenham and their meeting room has displays which would not be out of place in Fiona MacCarthy's wonderful exhibition.

The gas workers’ trade union banner included in Anarchy & Beauty has everything I love: the red caps of the revolution, fine slogans, the border of acorns and the oak, symmetry, the cause of labour, the embrace of liberty and the golden disc ‘Workers Unite’. It excites me that great artists and writers of Morris's day saw socialism as a response to rampant capitalism, and out of this they created beauty.

In my thirty years of banner-making I have made over 450 banners. I hand-paint and stitch them, I see their images everywhere. Within my ability I follow the arts and crafts traditions, the designs are collaborations. There is a paradox in offering the handmade as a counter to a society based on mass.