The Victorian artist William Morris (1834-1896), is one of the first textile artists I came across when I first learned about pattern design. His patterns to me were wonderfully adorned, sophisticated and felt uncomplicated all at the same time. It was quiet an inspirational moment and I was in awe!
So, I did a bit of research on him to get to know the person behind the art.
To put some context, Morris lived in the 19th Century, which was a period of rapid industrialization. Machines that made things were the craze! Objects were being made in huge quantities and industry started to produce enormous numbers of products for the middle classes who could now afford to buy them.
But, William Morris went against this trend- He re-invigorated the return to making things by hand- since it was meant to be good for the soul!
To him, products that were hand made were both beautiful and useful. In order to implement this organic way of looking and working, Morris mastered every art and craft to which he set his hand.
By doing this, he revived many of the traditional arts like dying and hand printing textiles, hand-lettering, book-making and produced works in almost all the decorative arts – wallpapers, curtains, carpets, furnishing fabrics, furniture, stained glass windows, embroidery and tapestry weaving.
And so his legacy was formed- Today he is remembered, as the father of the Arts and Crafts movement.
His famous prints, like this one
And this other one are still seen in wallpapers, cushions and curtains across the UK.
Looking at his work you’ll find that he drew heavily upon nature for inspiration. This influence can be found in his preference for strong, flowing curves and repeat patterns. His motifs often depicting his love of country-garden nature including forests, gardens, flowers, birds and leaves aplenty. Adding to this were his designs’ names like Willow Bough, Blackthorn, Strawberry Thief and Honeysuckle
Morris was also inspired by his deep interest and respect for mediaeval art and design, admiring the architecture and artwork of medieval churches and the traditions of individual craftsmanship, which he revived and promoted in his own work. For example, his manuscripts would be decorated with lavish illuminations and borders all done up with his own lettering.
William Morris was an all round artist, he was a painter, well known poet, environmental campaigner, influential writer and one of the main founders of the emerging socialist movement of the 19th century. He was prolific in his art-making and had many revolutionary ideas.
But, what I really like and admire about William Morris is that he never stopped thinking about the importance of art in every day life and that art is meant to be for everyone.
Whether this makes you the maker, the observer or the user, art is in us and around us.
I guess he sums this up by the following “Have Nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful” William Morris
P.S If you are keen to use copyright free William Morris collection of works, as idea starters or actual art you can incorporate into your own work, then have a look at the following:
William Morris in Applique: Six Stunning Projects and Over Forty Individual Designs by Michele Hill – Capture the glory of William Morris’ designs in 6 exquisite applique, projects: quilts, cushions, and wall hangings. Mix and match more than 50 applique, motifs.
William Morris Full-Color Patterns and Designs (Dover Pictorial Archive):by William Morris – beautiful designs by one of Victorian era’s most influential designers. Modestly priced, copyright-free collection of richly detailed patterns, faithfully reproduced from rare 1890s publication. Superb designs for wallpapers, chintzes, velveteens, tapestries, tiles, carpets, more.
Designs of William Morris (Phaidon Miniature Editions)by Editors of Phaidon Press -William Morris designed some of the finest wallpapers and fabrics of the 19th century, many of which are still in use today. This collection of beautiful drawings and designs evokes Morris’ charm and genius, revealing how his ideas on the nature of art and its importance in everyday life have had a far-reaching impact on art and design. 104 illustrations, 99 in color. (Phaidon Miniature Editions)
William Morris Stained Glass Coloring Book (Dover Design Stained Glass Coloring Book) – Just for fun, and inspiration, see these sixteen handsome renderings based on projects by one of Victorian England’s foremost leaders of the Arts and Crafts movement. Includes adaptations of wallpaper and textile designs as well as scenes of Adam Naming the Beasts, Sleeping Apostles, Angel and Woman, and many more. Add color and place translucent illustrations near a source of bright light for brilliant stained glass effects. (Dover Pictorial Archives)