20 September 2014

Special Exhibition Tour: The Pre-Raphaelite Legacy

Join exhibition curators Constance McPhee, Curator in the Department of Drawings and Prints, and Alison Hokanson, Research Associate in the Department of European Paintings at the Metropolitan Museum for a tour of the exhibition, The Pre-Raphaelite Legacy: British Art and Design at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Friday, October 10th at 10:30am.

The exhibition, The Pre-Raphaelite Legacy: British Art and Design, brings together some thirty objects from across the Museum and from local private collections to highlight the second generation of the Pre-Raphaelites, focusing on the key figures Edward Burne-Jones, William Morris, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Paintings, drawings, furniture, ceramics, stained glass, textiles, and book illustrations from the 1860s through the 1890s, many united for the first time, demonstrate the enduring impact of Pre-Raphaelite ideals as they were adapted by different artists and developed across a range of media. At a time of renewed appreciation for art of the Victorian age, the installation directs fresh attention toward the Metropolitan's little-known holdings in this important area.

Over the past century, The Metropolitan Museum of Art has acquired a varied group of objects, ranging from lengths of fabric to signature works which represent the accomplishments of this extraordinary trio and their circle.
The Pre-Raphaelite Legacy: British Art and Design features 26 objects from the Museum’s holdings and four loans from local private collections—including paintings, drawings, furniture, ceramics, textiles, stained glass, and book illustrations—highlighting the key period when the Pre-Raphaelite vision was adapted and transformed.
The tour is free to William Morris Society members, but is limited to 20 persons due to the small size of the gallery. 

Friday, October 10th, 10:30am
Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10028

Please RSVP to Margaretta Frederick, secretarywmsus@gmail.org, (302) 351-8518 if you wish to attend. Participants will be accepted on a first come, first serve basis. As always, donations are gratefully accepted.

11 September 2014

Morris, Books, and the Morgan Library & Museum: A Guest Post by Sheelagh Bevan.

Today, we're honored to have a guest post by the Andrew W. Mellon Assistant Curator at the Morgan Library & Museum. Bevan shares with us a description of the Morgan's Morris holdings; some of her favorite items in the collection; and thoughts on Morris's techniques, collaborations, and legacy within the book world.

          I’m part of a three-person curatorial department at the Morgan Library & Museum under the leadership of John Bidwell. Together we take care of 85,000+ volumes of printed books—from Gutenberg’s 42-line bible to the most recent work by artist-typographer Russell Maret. The Morgan’s twin mission (library and museum) requires us to work to some degree with the entire history of print. As Andrew W. Mellon Assistant Curator, I work most closely with the modern end of the spectrum.
         When asked, art historians often cite Edouard Manet as a progenitor of modern art. Such a figure is more difficult to identify in our field because of competing histories of printing, paper, illustration processes, typography, and design—all connected, yet too numerous to neatly coincide. The reach and resonance of William Morris’s bibliographic achievements, his ideas about the book as an everyday object worthy of aesthetic attention, his tendency not to separate the meaning of art from its means of production, and his belief (devoid of metaphor) in the book as a work of art—these qualities make him perhaps the closest equivalent book history has to a Manet.

   The Morgan Library & Museum. Photo by Graham S. Haber
          The Morgan’s collection of William Morris includes preliminary drawings for a tapestry he designed with Edward Burne-Jones, designs for wall paper, stained glass, and bindings, pamphlets connected with the Socialist League, photographs, early literary manuscripts, and experiments with calligraphy. The strength of our collection, however, lies in the documentation of Morris’s ventures into printing, typography, and book design for the Kelmscott Press. These items include formative projects such as Cupid and Psyche, the first pages printed at the press, and presentation copies of major works (many of them printed on vellum) inscribed to key figures in his life and career. Trials, preliminary drawings, and proofs for typography, ornamental initials, and illustrations comprise an archaeological trove pertaining to his masterpiece, The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer (1896).
Morris is identified with a rejection of mechanical processes but by studying his preparatory work on the Chaucer, one can trace how he achieved this handmade aesthetic with the aid of modern technologies. His type designs developed by studying, tracing, and copying photographic enlargements of fifteenth-century type, examples of which are in the collection. The Morgan’s platinum prints and proof impressions of every Burne-Jones drawing for the Chaucer were annotated by the artist and engraver, then traced and painted over in order to simplify them into wood-engraved images harmonious with Morris’s overall design. Some of my favorite material in the collection bears witness to this unique way of working in holograph statements by his collaborators, Emery Walker and Robert Catterson Smith—oft-quoted documents, worth reading in their entirety. Other favorites are books that serve as miniature archives in themselves, in which Morris or Sydney
   The Morgan Library & Museum. Photo by Graham S. Haber
Cockerell tipped in relevant letters, trials, proofs, and sketches of illustrations and initials. There are also unique scrapbooks of ornaments and initials, which Cockerell annotated and preserved, and the famous Edward Burne-Jones letter to Charles Eliot Norton, which reveals some of the contemporary resistance to Morris’s aesthetic. The original letter, with its dynamic and playful handwriting, amplifies the painter’s excitement about the book he likened to a “pocket cathedral” and explains how his visual style came to be shaped by Morris’s mastery of ornament.
Much of this material is drawn from John Crawford Jr.’s gift of Morrisiana in 1975—the impetus for Paul Needham’s exhibition and invaluable catalogue, William Morris and the Art of the Book. Another invaluable resource for the unique material in our holdings (and everyone else’s) is William S. Peterson’s Bibliography of the Kelmscott Press. In an exhibition I organized earlier this year, Medium as Muse, we were able to feature some of these items and their role in the revival of woodcut illustration and the development of the modern book.
          The collaborative nature of book production is important to emphasize to students. At the Morgan, this is documented vis-à-vis Morris through our extensive printed and manuscript holdings (hundreds of letters alone) relating to his influences and immediate circle—John Ruskin, Emery Walker, Edward Burne-Jones, Sydney Cockerell, Walter Crane, T. J. Cobden-Sanderson, May Morris—and other contemporaneous bookmakers, such as Charles Ricketts, Charles Shannon, and Lucien Pissarro.
          Contextualizing William Morris also demands a look at the past. Kelmscott editions were among the few “contemporary” books that Pierpont Morgan acquired, but the early presence of Morris at the Morgan is most palpable in the 1902 acquisition of a large part of the artist’s private library of medieval manuscripts, incunabula, and early sixteenth-century books. Researchers can look at many of the specific copies and precise pages that inspired him and figured in his writings about the art of printing and illustration. His collection is also thought-provoking in terms of the changing relationships we have to books: he may have begun to collect in the conventional fashion of a 19th-century gentleman-bibliophile, but over time these examples of fine printing became nothing less than a working specimen library for a modern graphic designer—as utilitarian as his copy of Shaw’s Encyclopaedia of Ornament, also in the Morgan’s collection.

          The William Morris material and all our collections can be seen and studied in pre-arranged classes and in the Morgan’s Reading Room by application and appointment. Information on how to register and request an appointment can be found here. The Printed Books Department tries to accommodate special requests for classroom sessions and show-and-tells whenever possible. Please feel free to contact me with any questions related to our holdings and their potential value for students of book history, art, literature, and graphic design.

Sheelagh Bevan
Andrew W. Mellon Assistant Curator
Department of Printed Books & Bindings
The Morgan Library & Museum

10 September 2014

Fellowship in Pre-Raphaelite Studies

Lancelot and Guinevere (1873) by Julia Margaret Cameron,
 in the collection of the Delaware Art Museum

The University of Delaware Library and the Delaware Art Museum invite applications for the 2015 joint Fellowship in Pre-Raphaelite Studies. This one-month Fellowship is intended for scholars working on the Pre-Raphaelites and their associates. Up to $3,000 is available.

The Delaware Art Museum is home to the most important collection of Pre-Raphaelite art in the US. Assembled largely by Samuel Bancroft, Jr., the collection includes paintings, works on paper, decorative arts, manuscripts, and letters, and is augmented by the museum’s Helen Farr Sloan art library. With comprehensive holdings in books, periodicals, electronic resources, and microforms, the University of Delaware Library is a major resource for the study of literature and art. The Special Collections Department contains material related to the Pre-Raphaelites, who are also well-represented in the Mark Samuels Lasner Collection of Victorian books, manuscripts, and artworks.

Application deadline: November 1, 2014.
More information here or write to:

Pre-Raphaelite Studies Fellowship Committee
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE 19806

01 August 2014

C.S. Lewis Defends William Morris

In the April 18, 2014 edition of the Times Literary Supplement, Tom Shippey reviews an exciting new collection, Image and Imagination: Essays and Reviews by C. S. Lewis (Cambridge UP, ed. Walter Hooper).

Hooper's collection contains one previously unpublished essay by Lewis, and forty book reviews which are reprinted here for the first time since their initial publication. Among these is an interesting review of Dorothy Hoare's The Works of Morris and Yeats in Relation to Early Saga Literature.

In the original review, Lewis leaves the Yeats portion of Hoare's work aside, and devotes the vast majority of his three columns of text to a robust defense of Morris. He understands that Hoare prefers the medieval texts to either Morris's or Yeats's interpretations of them, but he disagrees with her assessment of Morris.

“Of Mr. Yeats posterity will judge. Of Morris we can say only that Miss Hoare should read him again, with less submission to a narrow theory of literature. His real theme is very difficult to describe, but it is 'actual' enough. … From the whole atmosphere of each tale arises our awareness that something which has made the vast unnoticed background to much of our experience is at last being given expression...”

Reviewing the collection in April 2014, Shippey delights in the rather obscure barbed remark at the end of Lewis's review. Lewis ends with the simple comment that readers would perhaps be misled by Hoare's interpretation of “Morris’s ‘they tilted over a wain’ (for Ϸeir tjölduϷu vagu) as ‘a kind of leisurely wrestling’”.

After pointing out that the editor may have introduced a typographical error here—it's vagn not vagu—Shippey goes on to explain the remark. Both the Icelandic words and Morris’s more obscure translation mean “they put a tent up over the cart”. (p. 12). Hoare was far off the mark there, and so Lewis implies with a closing flourish, perhaps she had been far off the mark altogether.

-Clara Finley
 Vice President for Media: US Morris Society

05 July 2014

Call for Applications: Morris Society Fellowships 2015

(W.A. Spooner in Vanity Fair 1898 via this page)
The Joseph R. Dunlap Memorial Fellowship awarded by the William Morris Society in the United States supports scholarly and creative work about William Morris. The fellowship offers funding up to $1000 for research and other expenses, including travel to conferences and  libraries. Projects may deal with any subject biographical, literary, historical, social, artistic, political, typographical—relating to Morris. 

The Society also encourages translations of Morris's  works and the production of teaching materials (lesson plans and course materials) suitable for use at the elementary, secondary, college or adult education level. 

Applications are sought particularly from younger members of the Society and from those at the beginning of their careers. Recipients may be from any country and need not have an academic or institutional appointment, nor must recipients hold the Ph.D.

In some years the Society offers a second, smaller fellowship, the William Morris Society Award (the amount to be determined by the committee of judges) The purpose and aims of this second award are the same as for the Joseph R. Dunlap Fellowship.

Applicants should send a two-page description of their project, along with a c.v. and at least one letter of recommendation. For a translation project, please submit an additional letter from a recognized authority able to certify the applicant's competence in both languages. For teaching materials, we ask also for a cover letter describing the ways in which the materials might be used in learning situations. The Society would be pleased to publish any completed translation or teaching materials on its website, but this is not a requirement.

The deadline for applications is 15 December 2014. Applications are judged by committee, and 
the decision announced by 15 January 2015. Send applications to: 

Linda K. Hughes 
Department of English
TCU Box 297270
Texas Christian University
Fort Worth, TX 76129

Submissions, including supporting documents, should be sent via email (letters of 
recommendation should be emailed separately by the recommender). Although recipients are not 
required to be members of the William Morris Society, we encourage those applying to join and 
to share in the benefits of membership.

14 June 2014

How About a Morris Memorial Walk? A Modest Proposal

A Rainbow over Kelmscott Manor: photo by John Plotz

Back in 2011, I was lucky enough to spend ten days in and around Kelmscott, Oxfordshire. It couldn’t have been a better trip. When I wasn’t at the Manor itself, I visited the Great Tithe Barn at Coxwell, various churches that Morris worked on (Eaton Hastings ) or simply admired (St Mary’s in Castle Eaton), rowed (feebly) under the sweeping willows that Morris loved so much. On the last day I even saw a rainbow over Kelmscott Manor.

Although I’m not a macabre person, I was pleased to be there both on the anniversary of Morris’s death (October 3) and his burial three days later (October 6, 1896, a dark cold day). I’d been spending a lot of time at the gorgeous parish church of St. George’s, puzzling out the medieval wall paintings and admiring Webb’s memorable inverted-ship tombstone for William, Jane, Jenny and May Morris. So naturally I wonder what kind of commemoration to expect. Would it be Fabians, Guild Socialists, loyal Marxists? Or would his Arts and Crafts acolytes have set the tone? The answer was simple: none of the above.

It seemed wrong that so little should be done to mark a crucial moment in the Morris calendar at a crucial place, the “old house by the Thames to which the people of this story went.” So I had an idea, more or less the same one that John Paynes turned into his lovely book, Journey up the Thames.

Why not undertake the trip taken not only by Morris’s corpse after his death, but also by Guest, Clara and their companions in News from Nowhere? It seems a voyage that has as much to do with Morris’s life as with his death.

So, here’s my thought. Morrisites of all stripes should come together to follow the straightforward route marked out by the Thames Path and make a kind of Morris pilgrimage, arriving at Kelmscott Manor on October 6th. Although I realize that early October is an awful fit with the American academic calendar, I can at least attest to the mildness of the weather then. The ambitious could devote ten days to undertaking the 150 miles from London, while the more modest could (like me, on an unexpectedly balmy weekend) hoof just the final 50 miles from Oxford. Although the train no longer comes within a couple of miles of Kelmscott as it did in Morris’s day, boating wouldn’t out of the question. And anybody who elected to arrive by car would at the very least meet up with the party at Morris’s tomb on October 6th.

I admit the scene won’t be as tumultuous as that October day in 1934 when Prime Minister Ramsay McDonald missed George Bernard Shaw’s speech, and the dedication of Morris Memorial Hall on account of the crowds that flooded into Kelmscott. Still, is any one else as charmed as I am by the prospect of a walking, talking, disputating crowd of Morrisites, making their way argumentatively and amicably up the Thames?    

--John Plotz, Professor of English at Brandeis University

31 March 2014

William Morris’s Legacy in the 20th-Century Avant Garde

Lorine Niedecker, via the Poetry Foundation
Listening to a recent talk on ecology and contemporary poetry given by Professor Margaret Ronda, I was struck by how closely the aesthetic and political concerns of Objectivist poet Lorine Niedecker mirror those of William Morris, who was writing 75-100 years earlier. Niedecker’s work evinces a discomfort with the new, with aesthetic and literary emphases on innovation, and connects such neophilia with an unsustainable capitalist ideology of disposability and overproduction. This same anxiety about the connection between capitalist production and an aesthetic preference for innovation is apparent in Morris’s work, as I mentioned to Ronda after her talk. Imagine my surprise when Ronda told me that Niedecker was deeply interested in Morris and had in fact written a poem about him, titled “His Carpets Flowered.”

The poem, reprinted below, was written in the late ‘60s, and it suggests that Niedecker was primarily inspired not by Morris’s poetry, nor by his work in arts and crafts, but by his letters, and more specifically, by Morris the man as expressed in his letters. As Niedecker wrote in a 1969 letter to fellow poet Cid Corman: “I'm absorbed in writing poems--sequence--on William Morris. I know how to evaluate--Ruskin, etc., their kind of socialism--paternalism--but the letters of William Morris have thrown me. Title will be His Carpets Flowered. I can't read his poems. I'd probably weary of all those flowery designs in carpets, wall papers, chintzes...but as a man, as a poet speaking to his daughters and wife--o lovely” (455).