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William Morris and the Arts & Crafts Movement

Our art is the work of a small minority composed of educated persons, fully conscious of their aim of producing beauty, and distinguished from the great body of workmen by that aim. ~William Morris

Drawing room mural at Red House, painted by Morris himself
and his friends, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones for William Morris's first married home

Drawing room mural at Red House, painted by Morris himself and his friends, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones for William Morris's first married home

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Arts & Crafts Catalog List          Popular Art & Crafts Tiles

Why Arts & Crafts is Not Craftsman

Arts and Crafts is not Craftsman; it predates Craftsman style by 80 years and began on the other side of the Atlantic. The confusion of American Craftsman style with Arts & Crafts is a common misunderstanding because they have the same roots in William Morris. Morris, father of the Arts & Crafts movement, died in 1896 so missed the usual turn-of-the-century date referenced for the Arts & Crafts movement.

Morris preferred a simpler, more honest style by Victorian standards; he wanted to elevate the decorative arts to the level of fine art. Gustave Stickley designed and sold mass-produced house plans in his catalog, Craftsman Homes, as well as his own mass-produced furniture -- hence Craftsman-style.

Early American Arts and Crafts homes, however, were more Morris in their philosophy and these are also called Craftsman, more in keeping with the meaning of the word than the mass-produced style. The similarities are the use of natural materials and motifs.

While Morris was an inspiration to Stickley and many who came after, it's difficult to conceive him as being a Stickley fan. Arts and Crafts is a philosophy. Craftsman is a style. Morris applied that philosophy to Red House, the first Arts & Crafts home, full of medieval inspirations.

The medieval undertones of Arts & Crafts abound at Kelmscott, Morris's final and most beloved home. Kelmscott Manor is Tudor, but so identified with Morris, so full of Morris & Co. and Arts and Crafts furnishings, that its name evokes Pre-Raphaelite Arts & Crafts ideals and the values the underlie Arts & Crafts decorative arts.

Any home can incorporate Arts & Crafts -- Morris would like that. But not every home can be called Craftsman.

The Arts & Crafts Philosophy

Arts and Crafts has been called the Decorative Arts wings of the Pre-Raphaelite movement.

At the center of Arts & Crafts, is a philosophy, and a reactionary one at that: To elevate the decorative arts to the level of fine art, and to make them personal and accessible.

When William Morris (the Soul of Arts & Crafts) built Red House, his first married home, it became a gathering place for a circle of Pre-Raphaelite artists, Burne-Jones, Rossetti, and others. Red House was designed by William Morris in collaboration with his friend, architect Philip Webb.

Arts & Crafts Tiles

William Morris Designs and Overview

William De Morgan Designs and Overview

Morris Gallery and Catalog

Tiles from Textile Designs

William De Morgan Gallery and Catalog

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From Medieval to Arts & Crafts

Red House, was the only house commissioned by William Morris and the first independent architectural work of his close friend and collaborator, Philip Webb. William and Jane moved to Red House when Morris was 26, and Jane a mere 19. Inspired by a summer tour of the cathedrals of northern France with his friend, Edward Burne-Jones, Morris built Red House, and indeed the Arts & Crafts Movement, inspired by medieval values of craftsmanship that elevated decorative arts. At that time, Morris has fairly recently come into his inheritance and little expense was spared.

The Pilgrims Rest garden porch at Red House

The Pilgrim's Rest garden porch at Red House.

Red House was built along the path that Chaucer's pilgrims would have traveled, and this theme was carried through much of its design. It became a place where classical medieval images and themes abounded. The Morrises lived at Red House for five years from 1860-65. Both daughter, Jenny and May, were born at Red House. Morris and his Pre-Raphaelite friends spent much of their free time decorating and furnishing Red House, designing the medieval garden. One of the first Arts & Crafts pieces:  The William Morris, St. George cabinet 1861-1862 - designed by his friend Philip Webb and painte by Morris himself
and his friends, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones for Red House, Morris's first married home.

One of the first Arts & Crafts pieces: The William Morris St. George cabinet 1861-1862 - designed by his friend Philip Webb and painted by Morris himself and his friends, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones for Red House, Morris's first married home.

Tile Galleries

Red House and Early Tiles

Bestiaries, Celestials, Maps, and Monsters

Book of Hours, Herbals, Codices, and Crowns

Bestiary: Dragons, Unicorns, Unusual Pets

Medieval Codices, Gardens and Herbals

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Morris & Co.

Staircase landing at red house

'The Firm' (Morris, Marshall, and Faulkner) was conceived with friends after a dinner at Red House, later dissolved, and Morris & Co. formed. 'The Firm' offerings included tile, furniture, embroideries, stained glass, created by Morris's Pre-Raphaelite friends and their friends and families.

Pre-Raphaelite ceramics master, William De Morgan, began his career in stained glass at Morris & Co. but his interests and gift lay in ceramics. After working with Mrrosi for several years, he was inspired establish his own tileworks, where he continued to produce decorative ceramics for Morris and others. His work came to define Arts & Crafts ceramics. His later work especially show a stylized element characteristic of Art Nouveau.

William De Morgan peacock fireplace

William De Morgan peacock fireplace tiles

Tile Galleries

William De Morgan Tiles

William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones Fairy Tale Fireplace Tiles

Glasgow School Arts & Crafts

Morris and Morris & Co. Tiles

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Brother Rabbit kitchen

William Morris Brother Rabbit Kitchen

Brother Rabbit Fireplace in Victorian Blue

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Arts & Crafts: A Family Tree with Many Branches

Alas, these terms are used interchangeably, sometimes drawing boundaries where there are none, and at others blurring differences. We have:

  • English Arts and Crafts - the simplified, naturalistic, medieval-inspired William Morris philosophy and style. A simple, near austere, style by Victorian standards.

  • American Arts and Crafts - a term that embraces both East Coast traditional Arts and Crafts and the clean lines of Roycroft Arts & Crafts style of Elbert Hubbard's community of artisans and craftsman, as well as many Mediterranean-influence California Arts and Crafts home and buildings

  • Stickley Craftsman Style - An early 20th century style, popularized by Gustav Stickley with mass produced architectural plans and furniture advertised in his magazine-catalog, The Craftsman

  • Mission Style - Another name for Craftsman style in the Southwest -- a Stickley Craftsman furtniture salesman told a newspaper reporter that the table in his catalog could be seen "in a Spanish Mission in Southern California." The newspaper printed it as Mission style and the name stuck.

  • California Arts and Crafts - Nothing mass-produced about these. Think Greene & Greene and Gamble House. Yet also called Craftsman.

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    William De Morgan Fantastic Birds

    William De Morgan Fantastic Bird

    Later Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau

    The Arts & Crafts design philosophy underpins Arts and Crafts, Craftsman, and Art Nouveau / Jugenstil. The tiles of William De Morgan, who began his career in the decorative arts working for William Morris, work well in both Victorian and Arts and Crafts homes. De Morgan first worked in stained glass at Morris, Marshall, Faulkner and Co. before his interests shifted to pottery.

    You would think that his early designs would reflect more Victorian tastes and his later, more stylized designs, with Art Nouveau and American Arts and Crafts -- However, early designs evolved and I find myself having to examine the glaze and color to confirm the De Morgan "period", rather than the style of the design. (see William Morris and William De Morgan Tulip and Trellis to compare the styles. Both were implemented by De Morgan, but Morris's influence is clearer in the earlier version).

    William De Morgan Arts and Crafts fireplace with fantastic ducks tiles

    William De Morgan Arts & Crafts fireplace with Fulham Ducks flanking tiles

    Later De Morgan tiles fit in with American Arts & Crafts, Craftsman, and Art Nouveau styles. Tiles based on Glasgow Arts & Crafts principal, Charles Rennie Mackintosh or Cincinnati ceramics master turned California botanical artist, AR Valentien, are at home in Arts & Crafts, Art Nouveau, and California Arts & Crafts or Craftsman homes.

    De Morgan's Early Art Nouveau Style

    These tiles show De Morgan moving away from Morris's symmetical and natural forms to a more asymmetric and stylized form:

    Fantastic Creatures a la Art Nouveau

    Winged Seahorse panel

    Fulham Ducks

    Peacock and Salamander fireplace panels

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    Art Nouveau

    Art Nouveau grew out of the mid-century Pre-Raphaelite Arts & Crafts movement and took hold in the 1890s, at a time when Morris's artist attentions had shifted to Kelmscott Press. (see the Kelmscott Chaucer tiles.)

    Walter Crane, Flora's Train Flower Tiles

    Walter Crane Tiles: Flora's Train

    Walter Crane and William Morris: Flower Tiles

    De Morgan Happy Dragons

    Persian Garden of Fantastic Birds

    Scottish Arts and Crafts Tiles

    Inspired by Morris and his Pre-Raphaelite friends, the Arts & Crafts movement in Scotland in the late 1880s was centered in Glasgow. Like Morris, they worked across media, working in needlework, metal, carvings, and more. Glasgow school influences fused Celtic Revival, Arts & Crafts, and continental influences that came to define Art Nouveau.

    Jessie M. King Mermaid Backsplash

    Jessie M. King Garden Tiles

    Jessie M. King Mermaid Backsplash

    Charles Rennie Mackintosh Flowers

    Jessie M. King Frog Prince

    Hannah Moore Walton Pre-Raphaelite Painted Tile

    California Arts & Crafts

    As we've already seen, not all American Arts & Crafts are Craftsman. This is especially true in California. California Arts & Crafts style is more in keeping with the medieval tradition of kraft that was beloved by Morris and the Pre-Raphaelites. The Gamble House in Pasadena, California, the Roycroft furnishings that still exist, and the Rockwood pottery of AR Valentien exemplify the Arts & Crafts philosophy. None of these were ever mass-produced.

    Relief Tiles

    William De Morgan relief tile, lions

    Many of the original California Arts & Crafts homes had carved relief tiles. Morris and De Morgan made a few such as the lions shown, but it is more characteristic of the California style. I do not have any Morris or De Morgan relief tiles, but if you have an idea in mind for a relief tile, contact Steve Moon, my neighbor, across the river at Tile Restoration Center. If he can't make it for you, he can probably point you in the right direction.

    California Arts and Crafts Tiles

    California Trees and Wildflowers, A.R. Valentien

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Related Pages

William Morris and William De Morgan Tiles

Tulip and Trellis Tiles. Different approaches.

Membland Hall tile panel. A Morris-De Morgan collaboration.

Membland Borders and Backsplashes

Membland Fireplace Tiles

Membland Single Accent Tiles and Stairs

Early De Morgan Examples

De Morgan Ships

Parrot Fireplace Panels

Later De Morgan Examples

Fantastic Bird

William De Morgan Fish tiles

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