I Love How You Decorate, William Morris!
"I Love How You" is a monthly column where I feature an artist from history that inspires me.
William Morris (24 March 1834 – 3 October 1896) was a multi-talented Englishman; he was a craftsman, poet, writer, activist, business man, interior designer, and painter. Morris is most famous for his beautiful wallpaper designs, which he laboriously produced by hand in his workshop by the Thames River.
I love many things about William Morris, both the person and his work. Morris the person was a man of intelligence, high integrity, and morality. Morris believed that attractive surroundings were vital for producing good work — which is captured in his most famous maxim, "Have nothing in your houses which you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful." He strived the be a people's artist: he wanted good art for everyone, not just the elite. Ironically, many of his designs were only affordable to the rich due to the expensive way that he produced them. Perhaps a lesson for us all to balance our passion.
"Have nothing in your houses which you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful."
Morris lived during the Victorian Era, where interiors were designed in a cluttered and grotesque way. Rooms were lavishly decorated with luxurious objects and fabrics. It was the way that people in society at the time showed their affluence. Morris's disgust for the aesthetic, as well as the affluent people who propagated it, propelled him to create his own mark in home decor.
Morris believed in the value of craft and connection between the human hand and finished product; he believed that everything should be made by hand, displaying the stamp of the individual who made it. He despised commercially produced furniture and objects, which became the norm as industrialization was taking hold of England. In response, he made all of the objects in his homes himself. Morris was an autodidact with enormous skill and talent; he embroidered, made stained glass, painted, and built furniture. In the early days, he would get up as early as five in the morning to practice his craft. This approach to making spilled over into his business, William Morris & Company, where he produced wallpapers, fabrics, tapestries, and furniture. All of his papers and fabrics were dyed and printed by hand.
William Morris was an observer and lover of nature, which besides Medieval art and poetry, was his primary source of inspiration. He had a great respect for his natural surroundings, which he celebrated through his gorgeous designs and his production processes.
What fascinates me about his story is how relevant it is to ours now. There has been an art and craft revolution happening for years. People are taking back their creative powers, making by hand. I think, similar to Morris, it's a reaction to our consumer driven and mass produced society.
I feel inspired by Morris's steadfast beliefs and the way he moved through his world with integrity. He had to work hard to create the way that he did, but in so doing he preserved his dignity and self respect. I feel inspired to continue creating and making beautiful things with my own bare hands, just as he did.
How about you? What do you love about William Morris?
If you loved learning about William Morris, I recommend reading the book William Morris Decor and Design by Elizabeth Wilhide for more about his life and artwork.