April 17, 2007

William Morris – local hero or national asset?

Filed under: art, England, museum — podtourz @ 8:43 am

Sad news that Walthamstow council in London is downgrading its support to the William Morris gallery.

Morris is probably best known for his design work. If you enjoy fine printing you may know of his Kelmscott Chaucer; he also wrote romances, translated medieval poetry, and had a huge influence on art theory of his day. He painted, designed stained glass and furniture, and was a practising architect. A Renaissance man – three hundred years late.

Morris was also a committed Socialist. And that meant something rather different to him from what it might mean to a modern politician. He believed that everyone had the right to beauty in their lives – and that everyone should also have the right to a job that was satisfying and gave them pride.

William Morris is a major figure in the development of English art and design. So it’s disappointing that one of the major galleries devoted to his work may be downgraded – and eventually close – because a local council wants to save money.

I don’t think it should be a council funded museum at all, anyway. It’s a national treasure.

England is full of local museums. Often, the main exhibits are three gas masks from the Second World War and an old mangle to show the way our foremothers did their washing. Maybe a couple of flints found by a metal detectorist, and some old maps. These are characterful little museums, but no single one is really irreplaceable.

But the Morris Gallery is something else.  It needs to be saved – and invested in for the future.

Because in a world where McDonalds asks its employees to have ‘passion’ for the soggy cardboard food they serve, and where the ugly and the futile is all around us, William Morris is important: “Have nothing in your houses that ou do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”


Visit the Morris Gallery in Walthamstow, north-east London (or on the web).

Sign the online petition to save the William Morris Gallery (and yes, I’ve done so already).

More about William Morris on Wikipedia, with some good pictures, if this has whetted your appetite.


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