Reviving Arts and Crafts

WILLIAM Morris is a name that takes me straight back to my childhood, having been introduced to his designs while learning about the Victorians in primary school.

So I was thrilled to learn more about him as an adult, as part of the Laing Art Gallery’s programme of events celebrating the Arts and Crafts Movement, which he spearheaded.

morris wallpaper

Wallpaper by William Morris

Founded by a group of architects, designers and theorists, it railed against the industrial revolution and hoped to turn the tide on mass-produced, cheaply-made goods and inhumane labour.

Morris believed that machine-made was inferior to handcrafted and aimed to elevate the social standing of craftsmen by raising their craft to the level of art.

The Arts and Crafts Movement flourished in large cities, and progressive new art schools emphasised handwork and craftsmanship, encouraging the revival of techniques like enamelling, embroidery and calligraphy (hence my interest).

The way its main protagonists re-imagined the design of the house and garden is the focus of the Laing Art Gallery’s new exhibition, The Arts and Crafts House: Then and Now.

Through the work and ideas of Morris and John Ruskin, who laid the ideological foundation of the movement, it explores their influence on subsequent generations when it comes to interior design and landscaping.

Their ethos is still felt in contemporary design, such as the gold leaf wallpaper panels by Timourous Beasties that hang in the exhibition.

Rosa Nguyen, Gardening with Morris

Rosa Nguyen, Gardening with Morris

Some of its principles are even upheld by students today, explained Dr Michael Johnson, lecturer in design history at Northumbria University, who gave the lunchtime lecture I attended.

The exhibition features a new commission by Rosa Nguyen, entitled Gardening with Morris, which incorporates his wallpaper alongside 3D plant and insect forms in glass and ceramic.

It also celebrates the movement’s links with the north east, featuring Lindisfarne Castle, Wallington Hall and Cragside alongside Morris’ famous home, Red House.

Items have been loaned from galleries and museums across the UK, but also from private collections, so to see them on show is a rare treat.

I was quite taken with the beautiful lettering on the embroidered June Frieze by Morris’ daughter, May, which also featured floral designs and a view of Kelmscott Manor.

Furniture, textiles, paintings, ceramics, wallpaper, books and photography all form part of the exhibition, which runs until January 31, 2016.

For more information and to book tickets, click here.


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