Wednesday, 9 March 2016

The William Morris Gallery

Yesterday we blogged about Berlin wool work which was so popular with the Victorians. The rise of the Art and Crafts Movement in England, led by the brilliant designer William Morris caused a decline in popularity of Berlin Work.


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Morris was a poet, a political activist, and an artist whose impact is best seen in stained glass, textiles, and home decorations produced by his firm, Morris & Co., which was founded in 1861


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If you are visiting London you may enjoy an afternoon at the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow.
It is housed in a Grade II Georgian building that was Morris’ family home. It opened in 1950 by the then Prime Minister Clement Atlee. One of the gallery’s first visitors was Queen Mary. Her husband King George V had given Morris & Co the Royal Warrant for its contributions to the 1911 Coronation.
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The Gallery underwent a major redevelopment in 2011-12 and now has collections displayed on two floors with the top floor having learning and research facilities. There is also a gift shop full of gifts, accessories, homeware, stationery and books.
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The William Morris collection comprises over 10,000 objects and tells the story of the life and work of Morris and his artistic circle.
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The Gallery is hosting a two day study event in May that will present new research on May Morris’ life and work, in advance of a new exhibition at the William Morris Gallery in the autumn of 2017.
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May Morris, William’s youngest daughter, was an important figure in the Arts and Crafts Movement. This screen shows her skills as both a designer and maker.
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May helped transform embroidery from a domestic pastime, undervalued because it was mostly done by women, into a serious art form. Her work was exhibited widely and pieces like this showed what could be achieved by imaginative and inventive free-hand stitching, as opposed to the more plodding wool work dominating much amateur production.
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May had become the head of Morris and Co’s embroidery department by the time she was twenty-three, but she was concerned by the lack of professional organisations open to women, and tried to redress this by founding the Women’s Guild of Arts in 1907. May also participated in the early Socialist Movement and was instrumental in preserving and shaping her father’s legacy.
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Clients could order unique, one-off pieces designed specifically to meet their own tastes and requirements. This is one of the largest hangings May ever designed. It was commissioned by a Mrs Battye who, like many clients, wanted her family to do the stitching themselves. It is richly decorated with birds, beasts and flowers, and features the family’s coat-of-arms as well as fifteen mottoes, including ‘Ye earlie birde getteth ye wurm’ and ‘ye lyvynge dogge is more thanne ye dede lyonne’.
May  taught in London, Birmingham and Leicester and her guide to art embroidery, Decorative Needlework, was published in 1893.
If there is enough interest we will be arranging a group visit to the 2017 exhbition to view May’s work.