We have posted before about William Morris’s Kelmscott Press, which strove to elevate the craft of hand-printing in the late 19th-century. but the Rosenbach also has an interesting example of Morris’s work in another arena: textile design.
William Morris (1834-1896) wore many hats in his life: poet, novelist, artist, printer, manufacturer, political activist, and more. He preferred, however, to describe his profession as “designer.” In all his endeavours, be they books or textiles or beyond, he was reacting against what he saw as the Industrial Revolution’s proliferation of ugly, inferior goods and, worse, its dehumanization of work. orris believed the purpose of design was “to give people pleasure in the things they must perforce use [and] make.” These principles were at the heart of the late 19th/early 20th-century Arts and Crafts movement, of which Morris was a leading figure, and seem timely again today with the rebirth of interest in craftsmanship in everything from clothing to beer.
As with his work for the Kelmscott Press, Morris’s textile patterns were inspired by an interest in medievalism and a belief (shared by other British design reformers) that two-dimensional objects should utilize flat, stylized designs, rather than the hyper-realism common in Victorian styles. The specific pattern in our textile is the “Rose” and an 1883 drawing for the pattern is preserved at the Victoria & Albert Museum. Their notes indicate that it “is one of only three printed textile patterns in which Morris depicted birds. He had claimed in a letter to Thomas Wardle dated 25 March, 1877 that he was studying birds to put into his next design.”