On this day, the incredible Arts and Crafts artist, William Morris was born. If you are not familiar with his work off the top of your head, it is likely you have seen it. His patterns, inspired by nature, have been used in interior design, for stationary, on mugs, and everything in between. I became of aware of the artist behind these artful patterns with organic shapes that often include birds many years ago whilst enjoying a browse around the Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco. I know I had seen the Strawberry Thief pattern prior to that but I was so enchanted by the gorgeous pattern, I picked up the textile I would never had afforded at the time and read about the artist. I was hooked!

Strawberry Thief Pattern by William Morris

Strawberry Thief, William Morris

William Morris was born in London in 1834 and became one the nineteenth century’s foremost designers. While only 16 years old, he had already found his devotion to the craft style and refused to enter the Great Exhibition. It was 1851 and this exhibition was focused on more modern sensibilities, called the Machine Age, where sharp edges and new metals were celebrated. Morris was not impressed by the modern age and preferred his more organic and traditional sensibilities. As a young man, he attended Oxford, intending to study religion. However, upon meeting one of the foremost painters at the time, Edward Burne-Jones, he changed his course. Burne-Jones was a preeminent member of the “Brotherhood,” a group of painters celebrated for their romantic and chivalry inspired paintings. These artists rejected what they saw a an industrial society that was dehumanizing. The Brotherhood were fans of contemporary writers such as Charles Kingsley, John Ruskin, and Thomas Carlyle, whose writings focused on harmony between art, nature, and society, emphasizing moral and aesthetic values, while also celebrating heroes.

As a member of this group, Morris was further inspired to decorate the home he and his new wife moved into in 1860. For two years they worked and when the house was done, he and his friends opened their own design firm, Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. This design house specialized in tapestries, fabrics, and other textiles. Below is the Morris Room, a room from his house with his elegant patterns, intricate details, and lighting and furnishings that complement the space.

Morris Room (Green Dining Room), Victoria and Albert Museum

In 1875, Morris became the sole proprietor of the design firm, rebranding it to Morris & Co. where he continued to add over twenty new designs for fabrics, wallpapers, carpets, and other elements one would need to create a beautiful space in their home or business. Over time, Morris became more disillusioned with the political landscape, and like many artists and writers of his day, became enamored with socialism. He had a vision of a utopian society where art and beauty could be enjoyed by all. And, although I am absolutely opposed to socialism, I have the utmost respect for Morris and his desire to spread beauty to the world through his designs and artistic sensibilities. In fact, I agree that beauty need not be only enjoyed by the upper echelons of society, but rather having a beautiful home, no matter how extravagant or small, is something we should all aspire to create. For instance, while I was growing up, we did not have a lot of money but my mom would take time to paint the walls to create a beautiful space. Sometimes getting paint from others, this was a value that she instilled in my sister and I. With this said, I am consistently bothered by the destruction of beauty in the world. So, in a way I agree with Morris, albeit not from a socialist point of view, but of a lover of art that is created out of the good, meant to inspire and grace us with its beauty.

It is these principles that inspired Morris to spend his life creating beautiful patterns and designs for people to decorate with. Yet, today that type of inspiration seems to be fading. For instance, if you go into a major museum in American and even in Europe, many of the specially curated exhibits feature artists who would rather shock or make a political statement. In addition, in some cases this anti-beauty art is juxtaposed against paintings from eras where they valued elegance, grace, and the good. For me, this is a travesty, an insult, and a nihilistic attempt to tear down the good, the beautiful, the creative integrity of artists that came before us. So, on this 190th birthday of William Morris, I raise my decorated glass to a master of design and hope that his legacy will live on and inspire others to create beauty instead of tearing it down.