Saturday, March 24, 2007

Transforming the World with Beauty

With the arrogance of youth, I determined to do no less than to transform the world with Beauty. If I have succeeded in some small way, if only in one small corner of the world, amongst the men and women I love, then I shall count myself blessed, and blessed, and blessed, and the work goes on. -- William Morris

Today marks the 173rd anniversary of the birth of William Morris (1834-96), designer, author, and visionary socialist ... and the work does indeed go on. Morris's wallpapers and textiles are still in production more than a hundred years after his death, making him one of the most successful industrial designers in history.

However, the only museum in the world dedicated solely to preserving his legacy is under siege. The William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow is facing a budget cut of £56,000 from the Waltham Forest Council, which translates into the reduction of the gallery's opening hours by half and the sacking of curatorial staff. The proposed cut will be protested today at a birthday party near the gallery.

Waltham Forest Arts Council chair Tim Bennett-Goodman has told local media that the cut puts the gallery's core collection at risk, as its trustees might be forced to pass it on to a museum able to curate and display it properly.

MP Tony Benn, former culture minister Lord (Chris) Smith, Mayor Ken Livingstone, and Walthamstow Labour MP Neil Gerrard have all criticized the cut, while internationally renowned art experts and Morris specialists have expressed astonishment and disappointment.

Florence Boos, president of the William Morris Society (US), has called the move "unthinkable" given the gallery's role as a "place of pilgrimage for admirers of Morris's ideals, who come to Walthamstow from all over the world."

Nicholas Frankel of Virginia Commonwealth University says Morris's role in early socialism gives the gallery special relevance for a poor Labour-led borough. "Morris closely connected artistic with political freedom," he told media. "His work should be preserved not merely because it is a national treasure but also because of the lessons it can teach to precisely those constituencies Waltham Forest Council claims to represent." Boos agrees. "Morris was an enemy of the class structure, a foe of imperialism, a pioneer of 'green' thinking. Perhaps of all Victorians he is the most relevant to the lives of people today."

Friends of the gallery have established a website and an online petition to protest the cut.

I also recommend these sites:

William Morris Gallery (Water House, Morris's childhood home)
William Morris Society

For a list of museums and public art galleries holding works by Morris, visit Artcyclopedia.

The Red House in Bexleyheath, designed by Morris and architect Philip Webb, is a National Trust property undergoing restoration. It reopens early next year.

Think you know Morris and his circle pretty well? Try this crossword puzzle and see!

Shown here: William Morris, Pink and Rose Wallpaper Design, c. 1890.


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