William Morris Gallery is Morris's former family home, the 18th-century Water House. The artist, socialist and source of all that flowery wallpaper lived here between 1848 and 1856. The house is set in its own extensive grounds and features permanent displays of printed and woven fabrics, rugs and painted tiles by Morris and other members of the Arts and Crafts movement, as well as humble domestic objects including Morris's coffee cup and the satchel he used to distribute his radical pamphlets. It has now reopened after an extensive refurbishment.
William Morris Gallery
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William Morris Gallery
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WILLIAM MORRIS IN WALTHAMSTOW Born in Walthamstow in 1834, William Morris lived as a growing boy in the grade II* listed building that is now the site for this splendid gallery. Renovated and revitalized in 2012, this museum won the £100,000 Art Fund prize of 2013, and justly so. The present building simultaneously retains the workshop element while appealing to a contemporary audience. Morris worked in so many media that the architects and designers would have been spoilt for choice in terms of decorative and illuminated works. The garden too is a delight to saunter in on a summer’s day, its organized designs mirroring the patterns and motifs in his handiwork, with a bridge over a willowy moat where fluffy new broods paddle. Morris thought that the great Victorian John Ruskin’s The Nature of Gothic was one of the few indispensible works of the age; the book changed his life and predetermined the path he would pursue with fastidious dedication. He set out, in his own admission, with the arrogance of youth to change the world with beauty. Believing he belonged to a bygone age that was true to a higher standard, he set about elaborating works that he hoped might be stimulating and edifying in his own time. Inevitably and necessarily, his vision of life became politicized into socialism as he sought for a better society for the exploited lower classes. This museum offers substantial insights into his concerns and his legacy, together with glimpses and sprinklings of appetizing nuggets of biography, covering his upbringing, his influences, his muses, his friendships and collaborations with the likes of Burne-Jones and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. I am uneasy spending too many hours within any four walls – and the last time I visited Walthamstow it was to spend a night in the cells – but if I am to spend time indoors I would prefer it to be in a place like this, where there is a sense of being in the open air, figured in the elaborate interlacings of tendril and vine, fluent and linear arabesques of organized vegetation, printed and woven fabrics and tapestries, the timeless symbolism of sunlit legends depicted in coloured glass and cut wood. This insistence on exemplary craftsmanship and truth to materials have elsewhere sustained our Englishry in the works of artists like Eric Gill and Henry Moore, who steadfastly resisted the commercial mechanization of modern industry. The selections of William Morris’s work exhibited here prove, in my estimation, that patient craftsmanship of this calibre singlehandedly exposes much of the footling and fraudulent art of today as bluff and scam, morally and aesthetically bankrupt by comparison. To say that much of the work here is decorative is no denigration, for in Morris’s assured hands the process is lifted to a platform that puts it on a platform par excellence. A visit to this impressive museum is a thoroughly absorbing experience.
An absolute gem in the newly re-opened Lloyd Park. A fan of William Morris’ work, I decided to take the family out to the gallery and was delighted to see how it had changed since the multi-million pound, Heritage Lottery-funded renovation. The house itself is just stunning (and there’s even a very respectable café, serving decent coffees, with views across the park) and has been restored to its Georgian beauty. The galleries are well-ordered and offer something for all ages. Although I would have loved even fuller information about the social reformer, poet, designer and craftsman, the house fits in as much as it can and – anyway – I was far too busy making brass rubbings and practising weaving with my young son! Thoroughly recommended for a morning/afternoon out and a great opportunity to discover this exciting part of east London.