Arts and crafts

Arts and crafts

The Arts and Crafts Movement was an international design movement that originated in Britain and flourished between 1880 and 1910. It was instigated by the artist and writer William Morris (1834–1896) in the 1860s and was inspired by the writings of John Ruskin (1819–1900). It influenced architecture, domestic design and the decorative arts, using simple forms and a medieval style of decoration. It advocated truth to materials, traditional craftsmanship and economic reform.

The central figure in the Arts and Crafts Movement was William Morris (1834–1896). His ideas emerged from the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, of which he had been a part, and from his reading of Ruskin.

In 1861 Morris and his friends founded a company, Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co., which, under the supervision of the partners, designed and made decorative objects for the home, including wallpaper, textiles, furniture and stained glass. Later it was re-formed as Morris & Co. In 1890 Morris set up the Kelmscott Press, for which he designed a typeface based on Nicolas Jenson's letter forms of the fifteenth century. This printed fine and de-luxe editions of contemporary and historical English literature.

Red House, Bexleyheath, London (1859), designed for Morris by architect Philip Webb, exemplifies the early Arts and Crafts style, with its well-proportioned solid forms, deep porches, steep roof, pointed window arches, brick fireplaces and wooden fittings. Webb rejected the grand classical style, found inspiration in British vernacular architecture and attempted to express the texture of ordinary materials, such as stone and tiles, with an asymmetrical and quaint building composition.

Morris's ideas spread in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and gave rise to many associations and craft communities, although Morris himself was not involved in them because of his preoccupation with socialism. A hundred and thirty Arts and Crafts organizations were formed in Britain, most of them between 1895 and 1905.

In 1881, Eglantyne Louisa Jebb, Mary Fraser Tytler and others set up the Home Arts and Industries Association to promote and protect rural handicrafts. In 1882, the architect A.H.Mackmurdo formed the Century Guild, a partnership of designers including Selwyn Image, Herbert Horne, Clement Heaton and Benjamin Creswick. In 1884, the Art Workers Guild was formed by five young architects, William Lethaby, Edward Prior, Ernest Newton, Mervyn Macartney and Gerald C. Horsley, with the aim of integrating design and making. It was and originally led by George Blackall Simonds. By 1890 the Guild had 150 members, reflecting the growing number of practitioners of the Arts and Crafts. It still exists. At the same time the Arts and Craft aesthetic was copied by many designers of decorative products made by conventional industrial methods. The London department store Liberty & Co., founded in 1875, was a prominent retailer of goods in the style.

In 1887 the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society was formed with Walter Crane as president, holding its first exhibition in the New Gallery, London, in November 1888. It was the first show of contemporary decorative arts in London since the Grosvenor Gallery's Winter Exhibition of 1881. Morris & Co. were well represented in the exhibition with furniture, fabrics, carpets and embroideries. Edward Burne-Jones observed, "here for the first time one can measure a bit the change that has happened in the last twenty years". The Society still exists as the Society of Designer Craftsmen.

In 1888, C.R.Ashbee, a major figure in the later years of the Arts and Crafts Movement in England, set up the Guild and School of Handicraft in the East End of London. The Guild was a sort of craft co-operative modelled on the medieval guilds and intended to give working men the satisfactions of craftsmanship. Skilled craftsmen, working on the principles of Ruskin and Morris, were to produce hand-crafted goods and run a school for young apprentices. The idea was greeted with enthusiasm by almost everyone except Morris himself, who was by now involved in promoting socialism and thought Ashbee's scheme trivial. From 1888 to 1902 it prospered, employing about fifty men. In 1902 Ashbee moved the Guild out of London to found an experimental community in Chipping Campden in the Cotswolds. The Guild's work is characterized by plain surfaces of hammered silver, flowing wirework and colored stones in simple settings. Ashbee designed jewellery and silver tableware. At Chipping Campden it flourished creatively, but did not prosper and went into liquidation in 1908. Some of the craftsmen stayed, contributing to the tradition of modern craftsmanship in the area.

Charles Francis Annesley Voysey (1857–1941) was an Arts and Crafts architect, also designing fabrics, tiles, ceramics, furniture and metalwork. His style combined simplicity with sophistication. His wallpapers and textiles, featuring stylised bird and plant forms in bold outlines with flat colours, were widely used. Curiously, he was not a craftsman in any of the materials for which he designed.

Morris's ideas were taken up by the New Education movement in the late 1880s, which incorporated handicraft work in schools such as Abbotsholme (1889) and Bedales (1892), and his influence has been seen in the social experiments of Dartington Hall in the mid twentieth century and in the formation of the Crafts Council in 1973.

Morris & Co. traded until 1940. Its designs were bought out by Sanderson and Co. and some are still in production.