Anyone who knows me or my brand well knows that high on my list of design inspiration is one amazing bearded fellow named William Morris. His quote, “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”, has graced my studio walls in every creative space I’ve worked from. It is a constant in my mind when I am working on a new design or product and I have adopted it as the ethos of my weather&noise mission statement.
So, I’m gonna give you a little history lesson. I mean, I just graduated from college, so I’ve gotta have an outlet for report writing somewhere. William Morris was an artist, textile designer, writer, and widely accepted as the Father of the Arts & Crafts Movement in England and America. His writing inspired J.R.R. Tolkien and his design and pattern work inspired Liberty of London as they were starting to design and create textiles in the late 1800’s. I’ll let you in on a little secret, I haven’t actually read any of his books yet, but a few are on my summer reading list. In the description for News from Nowhere (1890) you can get an idea of Morris’ utopia and ideals:
“a classic work combining utopian socialism and soft science fiction. In the book, the narrator, William Guest, falls asleep after returning from a meeting of the Socialist League and awakes to find himself in a future society based on common ownership and democratic control of the means of production. In this society there is no private property, no big cities, no authority, no monetary system, no divorce, no courts, no prisons, and no class systems. This agrarian society functions simply because the people find pleasure in nature, and therefore they find pleasure in their work.”
Morris grew up in rural England in the early 1800s, spending his days wondering the acres of forest that surrounded his home. In his mid-twenties he moved to urban London and formed Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co, a decorative arts company. With the company, Morris and his partners hoped to reform standard British manufacturing and production practices and return to a system of well made, but affordable goods for the home. It was at this time that Morris started focusing on pattern design for wallpapers and textiles, which is what made me fall in love with his work.
Later in Morris’ life, he developed an interest in typography, calligraphy, and preserving historic printing methods, which also makes me swoon a bit. He spent his late years designing illuminated text for his earlier works of writing and learning the Icelandic language and about Scandinavian folklore. Again, swoon-worthy. Morris’ tapestries were often made of fibers which he would dye himself, using vegetable dyes rather than of chemical dyes that were becoming popular in manufacturing. And this was in the 1800’s before it was hip to go natural with things, quite the opposite in those days when modern manufacturing was becoming more and more about machines and chemicals. Morris was also skilled at embroidery and after mastering the craft, he trained his wife and her sister so they could execute his elaborate designs. Religious embroidery for vestments, sacramental cloths, and tapestries were a main part of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co’s revenue.
As his love of printmaking and typography grew in his later years, he founded Kelmscott Press, “to refashion Victorian typography and to create beautiful books based on medieval manuscripts. The press was founded in order to produce books by traditional methods, using, as far as possible, the printing technology and typographical style of the fifteenth century. In this he was reflecting the tenets of the Arts and Crafts movement, and responding to the mechanization and mass-production of contemporary book-production methods and to the rise of lithography, particularly those lithographic prints designed to look like woodcuts.” Kelmscott Press became one of the most famous presses of the Arts & Crafts Movement.
His deep involvement in the Arts & Crafts Movement is just one more reason to love Morris. He fostered craftsman ideals by having apprentices, teaching his skills to many and working to form communities of makers and encourage society to support these skilled craftsmen.
“Because craftsmen took pleasure in their work”, Morris wrote, “the Middle Ages was a period of greatness in the art of the common people. … The treasures in our museums now are only the common utensils used in households of that age, when hundreds of medieval churches – each one a masterpiece – were built by unsophisticated peasants.”
William Morris died peacefully in October 1896 in London. His family doctor pronounced that he had “died a victim of his enthusiasm. The Disease is simply being William Morris, and having done more work than most ten men”. Want to see more? Check out one (or all!) of these
The first exhibition devoted to William Morris and his influence on twentieth-century life, entitled Anarchy & Beauty: William Morris and His Legacy, is to open at the National Portrait Gallery in London this autumn. The exhibit will focus on Morris’ far reaching politics, thought and design and will include portraits, furniture, books, banners, textiles and jewelry. The collection highlights the element of anarchy within the ‘art for the people’ movement which demanded a total overturning of accepted values. The exhibition extends beyond Morris’s own death in 1896 to show how his radical ideals developed through the Edwardian decade; It explores the ruralist revival of the 1920s and 1930s when leading craft practitioners – the potters Bernard Leach and Michael Cardew, the weaver Ethel Mairet, the hand-blocked textile printers Phyllis Barron and Dorothy Larcher – evolved their own alternative ways of life and work in an increasingly materialistic age. I so deeply wish that I could go to London for the exhibit next year to see the work of the man that has shaped my aesthetic and my brand and to see some of his work in person and celebrate his life. And that beard.
I curated this sweet little treasury this week to celebrate the start of spring and share a few things that I’m finding inspiring these days. What’s been inspiring you with the change of seasons?
I’m so happy that there are going to be some lovely design magazines coming back into my life! I’ve missed domino oh so dearly, as I’ve posted about a lot.
So, first up, I’m really excited about Rue Magazine. Their premier issue just hit
stands the web this week. I’m looking forward to finding some time to sit down and browse through the whole thing in depth. I haven’t really gotten into the online magazine thing yet (yeah, I know I’m late to the game there), but goodness, just browsing through the first few pages has totally changed my mind. Love it! So effing cool (yeah, so cool it makes me want to use naughty language!). Clicking on photos and being directed to the website where I can buy it?? This is going to make paying off my credit cards a lot harder. Seriously, how ingenious is that? And, bonus, the first issue has an article about Emily Henderson AKA thebrasspetal AKA my favorite Design Star contestant ever! Which reminds me, when will there be another episode of Secrets of a Stylist?
Next up, Anthology! I’m a little beyond excited about this.. and I have to admit, this is the one I’m looking forward to most. Because it is going to be real print magazine and because it looks *beautiful*. A magazine that I can keep in my purse to read through anytime I have a few minutes waiting somewhere. Or that I can take to bed with me to read. Or the bath. I do miss real print. And how much do I love this video?
Lastly, is Lonny. Lonny is being offered digitally AND in print. Which is awesome, but the print copy is a bit pricey – $34 for the current issue. I totally understand though – they are printing on FSC certified paper and printing on demand. I just don’t think I can quite spend that much on a magazine until I know it a little better, so I’m going to check out some issues online only and re-evaluate. Of course, it might be something good to ask for with the holidays approaching. It can’t hurt that one of the first things I noticed in it was the new John Derian collection at Target.
Inspiration is running high around here – fall is in the air, lots of new pretty pages to browse, Indie Emporium next month, AND, Tulsa’s Anthropologie is opening NEXT FRIDAY. Life is good.
The little cool-off we’ve been having for the past week has gotten me really excited about fall. I think this fall is going to be extra wonderful and special. I have lots of grand plans – we’ll see if I can make them all happen. What are your favorite things about fall? I love the coffee! And going to fall festivals with the husband! And leaves! And sitting outside having dinner by the chiminea! And soup! And coats, and turtlenecks, and gloves, and hats, and scarves! Oh my, I can hardly wait. I think a new coat is in store this year, hopefully one like this.. in fact, here’s a little fall inspiration board of what’s on my current wish list.
Here are photos of some of the scarves I’ve made this year. Scarves modeled by Renee of GreenerMe and photographed by miss Samantha. Hope they inspire you to get excited about fall also. I’ll be listing them in the shop next week. And until next time, I’ll just be knitting away..
In case you don’t know about the Shakers, their primary belief was “Maintaining that everybody could find God within him or herself, rather than through clergy or rituals, the Shakers dedicated their lives to pursuing perfection and continuously confessing their sins. A good example of this is this motto: “Do your work as though you had a thousand years to live and as if you were to die tomorrow.” Thus, objects were made to be perfect in their eyes while plain in style, durable and highly functional.”
The Shakers had some interesting practices – separate staircases, doors, and furniture for men & women, no marriage or procreation- not exactly the best way to carry on your legacy and religious beliefs, but geez, they sure could make furniture! The Shakers were also very devoted to cleanliness. The rooms in Shaker villages and homes have pegs surrounding the room and at the end of the day, or when things were not being used, they would hang everything up, including the chairs, to thoroughly sweep. Their founder, Mother Ann, was quoted saying “There is no dirt in heaven” so they designed rooms that were easy to keep clean. “A Shaker room usually contained walls of recessed doors and drawers for storage. The less freestanding furniture- the easier it was to sweep the floors. Their cabinetry was beautifully joined and finished with very little ornament. Although Shakers believed that items with utility could also be beautiful, they did not believe in adding beauty for beauty’s sake alone. Typically, drawers were simple slab fronts with small wooden pulls and cupboard doors had simple styles and rails with a recessed center panel. The beauty was in the details; the way the cupboard doors fit precisely into their frame, the dovetailed joints of the drawers, the careful mitering of the styles and rails.
I think the the Shaker ideals closely align with how I’m feeling about my new work right now.. I want everything to be just perfect before I “debut” it all… BUT, it’s all so simple and functional. A few months ago Thom and I were at a book sale and I found a book of Shaker furniture plans that I’ve been reading at night. I’m just so smitten with it all right now. I wonder what life is like for the 3 remaining Shakers at Sabbathday Lake. I often daydream about leading a simpler life, without all of the television, internet, and connected-ness, but I sure do like all of our modern conveniences.
And I do find a bit of irony in my obsession with the Shakers and the fact that I blog about it on the day I’m picking up my new iphone. Maybe I should get this case for it by Miniot, a Dutch designed & made case.