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William Morris and the Arts & Crafts Movement

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William Morris, Membland Tiles in indigo, cream, and black

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

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. '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.

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:

  • English Arts and Crafts - the simplified, 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.

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 reference date. 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. However, early American Arts and Crafts Homes 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.

Morris preferred a simpler, more honest style by Victorian standards; he wanted to elevate the decorative arts to the level of fine art. While he 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, one that was medieval inspired. Kelmscott, Morris's final and most beloved home, was Tudor, but so decorated with Morris & Co. and Arts and Crafts furnishing that it also defines Arts & Crafts decorative arts.

California Arts & Crafts

As explained above, 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

Many of the original California Arts & Crafts homes had carved relief tiles. Morris and De Morgan made a few, 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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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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Arts and Crafts Tile Catalogs

. 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.

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Popular Arts & Crafts Tiles

William Morris designs

William De Morgan designs

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

Glasgow Arts and Crafts Tiles

Charles Rennie Mackintosh Flowers

Jessie M. King Mermaid Backsplash

Hannah Moore Walton Painted Tile

California Arts and Crafts Tiles

California Trees and Wildflowers, A.R. Valentien

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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