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The Arts and Crafts Movement

The Arts and Crafts Movement was a design influence which was popular between 1880 and 1910. It was largely begun by the English textile designer, William Morris who was born in Walthamstow in East London.

Morris was best known as a poet but founded the Oxford and Cambridge magazine to expound his thoughts on the craftsmanship of that era and in the decorative arts. These experimental skills included ornamental works made of ceramics, wood, textiles, glass and metal.

Morris's ideas mainly covered decorative arts such as wall coverings and furnishings. Many fine examples from this era can be found on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

The Arts and Crafts Movement flourished in Canada, Australia and America as well as in Britain at that time. In all, 130 Arts and Crafts organizations were founded in Britain between 1895 and 1905 when the movement was at its height.

It moved on to influence architecture, domestic designs and more decorative arts. It often had a medieval style of decoration and empahsised the use of traditional craftsmanship and materials.

A great example of this style can be seen at Standen in East Grinstead, built in 1891. It was designed by Philip Webb and illustrates the use of local materials. It still has many furnishings by William Morris.

In many ways the Arts and Crafts Movement was a revolution in its own way. It was a protest against the heavy styles of the Victorian era and the mass-produced goods from the Industrial Revolution.

Influences came from Owen Jones at the School of Design, and Ruskin who was a critic rather than a designer.

As artisans turned away from machinery and sought satisfaction in handcrafted products, it made the products comparably expensive which were only affordable by the wealthy.

The design inspirations were often from nature itself with many flora and fauna images drawn from the British countryside. Many artists in this new appreciation set up workshops in rural areas and revived long-forgotten techniques. The resulting products often features bold colours and forms in Gothic revival style.

William Morris strongly believed that an artist should be a craftsman and designer. He often left things slightly unfinished to lend a certain hand-made rustic charm to his designs.

Promoting the value of Master Craftsmen rather than machine-made manufacturing, the Arts and Crafts Movement greatly affected the design and manufacturing of all the decorative arts in England by the end of the 19th century.

The Red House at Bexleyheath was designed by William Morris for Philip Webb and is a fine example of the early Arts and Crafts movement.

Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery is now housed in a beautiful Arts and Crafts building. Haworth Park in Accrington is also a fine example of Arts and Crafts, both in its architecture and in the heralded stained glass windows and plaster and wood decorations in the reception rooms.

On a more up-to-date note, Stapehill Abbey has been a centre for rural crafts for many years and a wide variety of handcrafted goods can still be viewed and bought direct from the craftsmen there.

The family home of William Morris in London (from 1848 to 1856) is now the William Morris Gallery and has excellent displays of all manner of furnishings and furniture dating from the Arts and Crafts period.

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