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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

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William Morris, William De Morgan, Arts and Crafts Tiles

From left: Fantastic Bird, Jessie M. King Mermaid tile backsplash, Fish and Peacock tile mural, Peacock and Salamanders fireplace panels, The Forest border tiles, Membland tile panel, Red lustre owls and scrolls, Days of Creation Angel tiles, De Morgan Persian Fish Frieze.

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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.

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.

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.

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. Pre-Raphaelite ceramics master, William De Morgan, began his career in stained glass at Morris & Co. but his interests and gift for ceramics inspired him to establish his own tileworks.

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Arts & Crafts and Craftsman

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

Alas, these terms are used interchangeably, drawing boundaries where there are none, and making differences difficult to discuss. We have:

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 identify 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).

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.

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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 my neighbor, Steve Moon, across the river at Tile Restoration Center. If he can't make it for you, he can probably point you in the right direction.

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