25 September 2012

Very Morris

If a chap can't compose an epic poem while he's weaving a tapestry, he had better shut up, he'll never do any good at all
A truth uttered by Morris

Everyone knows that William Morris was a pretty awesome guy; that flat pattern, floral motif, arts & crafts design vibe he had going on was all-out great. What I did not know is that the William Morris Gallery is only one swift bus ride from my front door to that of the museum's - the Morris Express if you will. The gallery is a house in Walthamstow that Morris lived in as a teenager. It's been newly spruced up for 2012, what with all the culture and festivities in London this year. The gardens and grounds out back are beautiful, with a specially designed William Morris Garden directly behind the house. The plants and flowers are supposed to represent different aspects of Morris's philosophies, ideas and artistic endeavours. I don't really know how a garden can reflect these, but I think it just needs some time to grow into itself.

Come back in ten years...

The first room is an overview of Morris's life, with a sculpture of his wondrous bearded head placed beneath these words emblazoned upon the central wall: 'I do not want art for a few, any more than education for a few, or freedom for a few.'

Morris is eminently quotable. I shan't bore with all the many many wise words and lovely phrases I scribbled down all over the gallery booklet. I covered three sides in tiny writing. A favourite is a section of a letter he wrote to his sister Emma - so ordinary yet a clear and intimate insight into the personality and humanity of a growing boy with appetites for everything:

'As you are going to send me the cheese perhaps you would set Sarah to make a good large cake, and I should also like some biscuits and will you also send me some paper and postage stamps also my silkworm eggs, and if you could get it an Italian pen box.'

There are also quotes from other notable figures in the world of art and literature about Morris written along and around the top of the ceilings in this first room. I reckon Engels summed him up with his alliterative description: 'a settled sentimental socialist'. And John Ruskin enriches this by stating grandly that 'Morris is beaten gold'. Well, he was certainly glowing with passions - for beauty, for politics, for equality, for nature, for workmanship, for ART. He loved stories, classical myths, Icelandic sagas and medieval tales. And moments of his life read like wonderful fairy tales and vivid anecdotal images. When he was six and settled at Woodford Hall, with its 50 acre park, he was given a suit of armour and rode around the grounds on his Shetland pony. A little later in life, when hangin' with all those wicked, riotous Pre-Raphaelite fellows, he dressed up in armour commissioned from a local blacksmith to model for the paintings. He got himself stuck in a helmet, 'embedded with iron, dancing with rage and roaring inside'. He married the timelessly-beautiful Jane, and daily life in the Morris household was a hoot, with guests playing hide and seek and pelting each other with apples in the garden. They lived in 'more a poem than a house' as Rossetti said of Red House in Kent, which is oh so on my list of places to visit and gawp at and revel in very soon.

The gallery is absolutely packed to the rafters with information, little tales,grand ideas, facts, artifacts, meticulously printed and illustrated books, paintings, sketches, furniture, carpets, wall-hangings, wallpaper, objets tres tres beau! I can only but glance across them here. But Morris's first biographer put it perfectly when he wrote that 'people dressed themselves with his wall-hangings, covered books with them, did this or that according to their fancy, but hang walls with them they would not.' I wanted to wrap myself in Morris, to touch and feel and luxuriate as well as look look look. 'I determined to do no less than to transform the world with beauty' said Morris. He's certainly transformed this little bit of Walthamstow.

Gallery grounds

1 comment:

Chris said...

I'm guessing you enjoyed the visit?