Today’s Pretty Pair comes with a mini history lesson for anyone who isn’t familiar with the Arts and Craft movement, of which William Morris (1834-96), whose wallpaper design is pictured above, was one of the founders.
The Arts and Crafts movement was influenced by the writings of three Victorian men: Morris, A. W. N. Pugin, and John Ruskin. It was not just an aesthetic movement but also a social movement, started in response to industrialization and urbanization in 19th century England and the resulting consequences of dehumanizing labor and the abandonment and destruction of nature. Advocates of this movement sought to assert the value not just of beautiful objects but also of the makers of those objects and the personal benefits derived from handmaking processes. According to the authors of Makers: A History of American Studio Craft, Ruskin believed that workers “could derive satisfaction from their labor only if they were given some creative control.” Furthermore, “this vision, above all others, inspired the craft revival,” which elevated the practice of design in society and applauded people’s individuality expressed through handmade artifacts and the imperfections inherent in humankind and its handicraft.
Throughout his lifetime, William Morris, a follower of Ruskin’s, taught himself how to glaze ceramics, letter and illustrate manuscripts, engrave wooden printing blocks, dye wool and silk, print textiles, and weave tapestries and rugs. With several colleagues, he founded a sort of design and craft fabrication firm, eventually named Morris & Co., that produced murals, carvings, glass, metalwork, jewelry, furniture, and embroidery.” The motto of the company and its legion of international followers was “Art into Life.” Through tremendous acclaim, Morris & Co. helped to elevate craft to more of an art status. Morris himself is perhaps best know for his exquisite wallpapers, which were painstakingly drawn and followed the philosophies of the Arts & Crafts movement. According to Makers:
“His influence on the crafts was (and is) immense. By his own example, he elevated craft from a trade to a vocation, linked handwork with idealism, and became a hero for generations to come. Morris & Co. was a successful business but not a cutthroat capitalist one. It gave dignity back to labor (even if its workers weren’t designers, as Ruskin might have wished). Morris insisted that craft could be art and that art must be incorporated into the daily lives of ordinary people. This just might be his most important legacy of all.”
The ideal of the Arts and Crafts movement was to combine beauty and usefulness, that handcrafted goods have value beyond their utility. Followers also claimed that craft is the foundation of the arts—one can’t separate fine art from folk art—and that nature and regionalism can and should be expressed through handcrafted works.
These assertions are certainly nothing we haven’t heard before in the last few years, but they were pretty revolutionary for their time.