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The Arts and Crafts Movement

For a decade or more, a revival of interest in the Arts and Crafts Movement has been strong. This may have been due partly to pre-millennium fears and yearnings, expressed as nostalgia.

People prefer the Arts and Crafts style home and furnishings because these emphasize comfort, relaxation, and serenity. William Morris (1836-1896), a British socialist, poet, author, and designer, was the father of the movement. He called for a return to the innate goodness of regional handicrafts and simple decoratives as an antidote to the aesthetic of spiritual impoverishment brought on by the Industrial Revolution. This movement emphasized a revival of local traditions, and materials-both in terms of workmanship and style. As a designer and artist, Morris created many functional and decorative items. These included wallpapers, textiles, tiles, stained glass, metalwork, furniture, books, and even illuminated manuscripts. He is credited with reviving interest in calligraphy, which suffered badly once the printing press was invented.

He became interested in doing needlework and textiles after noticing some needlework his wife was working on. She instructed him and even worked with him by teaching him techniques of needlework. She used her garden as inspiration for her needlework, and so did Morris. He did a fabric, which is considered one of his classics, The Strawberry Thief, which depicts birds in his garden eating the fruits. He also grew dye plants in his garden for use in the natural-dyed fabrics produced in his factory. Morris’ garden influenced his work in many ways, and his garden design principles and ideas in turn influenced Gertrude Jekyll. She wrote many garden books, one called the “Arts and Crafts Garden”, in which she gave guidelines on creating such gardens.

In America, the Movement had to find a means of producing quality products at an affordable price. Morris’ designs were only available to the very wealthy. The American solution was to streamline production methods using craftsman-style designs and materials.

Gardeners may wish to re-examine the history and continuing influence of the Arts and Crafts Movement in American design.

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