The inspiration behind the patterns of flowers and birds in designs by Arts & Crafts firm Morris & Co., which are still popular today, is explored in an exhibition, supported by the company, beginning this summer at the National Trust’s Standen House and Garden in West Sussex until the 10th November 2019. William Morris (1834-1896), a leading figure in the Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain, designed some of the most recognizable textile patterns of the nineteenth century. The creative force behind Morris & Co., which produced his designs, Morris had a love of nature which influenced his work.
His designs for fabrics, wallpapers, tapestries, and embroideries show how much he celebrated nature in his work: “I must have unmistakable suggestions of gardens and fields, and strange trees, boughs, and tendrils, or I can’t do with your pattern.” At Standen, the Arts & Crafts house designed for the Beale family in the late 19th century, Morris & Co. patterns were chosen for furnishings throughout their home and exemplify the popularity of bringing nature indoors. The exhibition invites visitors to discover how repeating patterns of flowers and birds in Morris & Co. designs were chosen, and the value that Morris placed on the revival of traditional skills and techniques including natural dyeing and tapestry weaving. In collaboration with Morris & Co., which still produces his designs today, the exhibition ‘Inspired by Nature’ includes a recreation of the company’s original showroom so that visitors can experience how customers like the Beale family selected products for their homes. Wallpaper blocks for Larkspur from Morris & Co.’s archive, the original drawing for Daffodil from the William Morris Gallery, and Fox and Hare, two drawings by Standen’s architect Philip Webb from the National Trust’s Wightwick Manor, are among the items on display. Alice Strickland, National Trust curator for Standen, explains: “Morris’s love of nature was a wellspring for his work. He possessed an understanding and deep love of all-natural things: flowers, trees, birds, animals, and insects. In his designs, he often chose to use field and hedgerow plants such as dog rose and honeysuckle, and the curving branches of oak and willow. “Morris & Co.’s designers created a wide range of products for the home. Repeating patterns decorate many of these products and are a reminder of the joys of the British countryside. Blackbirds feast on wild strawberries in the pattern Strawberry Thief and wild roses clamber through a trellis in Trellis. “The exhibition celebrates Standen’s well-known collection of Morris & Co. patterns and reveals the process behind their creation, so we are really excited to be able to display the original woodblocks used to print the wallpapers seen in the house. “We will also be showing exquisite hand embroideries by Morris’ daughter, May, along with the only known Morris & Co. tapestry in the National Trust’s collections, plus the opportunity to visit a living artist’s studio offering people the chance to create their own patterns.” Claire Vallis, creative director, Morris & Co, says: “At Morris & Co., as custodians of William Morris’s original company, we are delighted to be sponsoring this wonderful exhibition at Standen, which explores the significance of nature in the work of Morris and his collaborators and brings to life how they used this inspiration in their artwork and beautifully crafted products.” ‘Inspired by Nature’ extends from the house across the garden and wider estate. A program of events includes talks, craft workshops, and family events, and the chance to see plants such as pomegranate, rose and honeysuckle in the conservatory and garden, reflecting those in Morris and Co.’s patterns. A trail inspired by William Morris’s poem Tapestry Trees leads visitors through the Arts & Crafts garden overlooking the Sussex Weald, showing why each of the trees including oak, ash, and yew was important to Morris.