Thursday, 27 March 2014




As icy winds and heavy snow fall continue to plague many parts of Canada (southern BC excluded!), promising signs of spring seem far away. To lift your spirits and to encourage a sense of optimism for the changing of the seasons, William Morris and his iconic floral patterns will be today’s subject! 

William Morris (1834-1896) is most notably associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and the English Arts and Crafts movement. While his claim to fame is more or less the result of his infamous textile and wallpaper designs and his decorative arts company, Morris & Co. (founded as Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co.), he was also an accomplished painter, printmaker, fine carpenter, writer, and active libertarian socialist. 

William Morris

Snakeshead, 1876

What makes Morris such a noteworthy historical figure, was his commitment to his craft. He believed that the masterful creation of art was not the result of genius, rather the talent and dedication of the artist. He taught himself the intricate craft of embroidery so that he could design elaborate floral patterns that he would eventually transform into tapestries. His social beliefs were heavily embedded in his art, as he envisioned a society that recognized artistic value and infused themselves within its production. He believed that artists should be involved with all aspects of the production of goods. He perceived society as disconnected from traditional arts and craftsmanship, which was the driving element of Medieval and Renaissance existence that he admired. 

Fruit Design, 1862

As our society has progressed towards an industrial-centric existence, in which traditional skill and handcrafted goods have become a thing of the past, a new appreciation for the Arts and Crafts movement has been ignited. One piece of literature that I can’t help but think of, in regards to Morris and his view on society, is The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, by German Marxist Walter BenjaminAfter studying this work, one may develop a better understanding of the resulting social anxieties surrounding mass production and reproduction of goods. The notion of “that which withers in the age of mechanical reproduction is the aura of the work of art” is an integral concept present in Benjaminian theory. His primary argument is that mass-produced objects lack the authenticity and ‘aura’ of handcrafted goods. Intangible cultural practices, most notably skill and tradition, are embodied within handmade objects. While Benjamin and Morris are the product of different generations and social circumstances, their ideals are very complementary. These are some initial conclusions that I have drawn, as my investigation on this subject is in its infancy.  

Tapestry of the Unicorn — Perhaps a source of inspiration for Morris

In considering the ideas previously discussed through the lens of contemporary life, it is easy to find parallels. Crafting culture and the revival of traditional skill, for example, have become very popular as displayed by Etsy, Pinterest, and various crafting and lifestyle blogs (My personal favourites are Fint & Dejlig and The House that Lars Built). This infinite quest to establish and maintain a sense authenticity is a driving force in many Western cultures, for obvious reasons. This also calls attention to a need and desire to preserve various valuable practices of intangible heritage, but that’s a whole other discussion. 

Do you believe that crafting culture can help restore or develop authenticity in lifestyle? Can objects embody such a powerful force? Please share your thoughts. :-)

Check out the beautiful handcrafted knitwear by Emma Knight, a graduate of our program!

* Please note: Grove Art Online was the primary source of information. This is not a public web source. 

1 comment:

  1. Great distraction from the cold weather outside, Jaime! I think that craft culture (together with maker culture, DYI culture, etc) is so appealing because it holds the promise of authenticity which is associated with individual labor and identity. There is quite a lot of value attached to personalized creativity but it coexists as well with the "trust" and power contemporary communities give to technology and its ability to be creative. An interesting tension - or happy co-existence?