William Morris - North East Arts & Crafts At The Bowes Museum

By Julie Penfold | 11 November 2003
Shows a photography of a tapestry depicting an angel playing a harp beneath the inscription "Alleluia".

Photo: Alleluia, tapestry woven at Merton Abbey. Courtesy of Harris Museum, Preston.

Pausing to admire her tasteful wallpaper, Julie Penfold made the trip to the Bowes Museum to see a blockbuster exhibition.

William Morris and his phenomenal influence on the Arts and Crafts movement in the North East is celebrated at the Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle, until February 29, 2004.

The exhibition is dedicated to the man who dedicated his life to art. It showcases his exquisite designs, work that influenced and inspired many of his North East contemporaries.

Shows a black and white photograph of William Morris.

Photo: William Morris 1834-1896. Private Collection, Bridgeman Art Library / Ken Walsh.

"William Morris is such a popular local figure, we wanted to bring together his work from the Arts and Crafts movement, much of it never seen before in a public gallery," said Jane Whittaker, Exhibition Curator.

"We felt this extensive display would generate interest from all ages and get people talking about William Morris again."

Over a dozen museums have loaned objects, as have four private collections, two universities and six churches in the North East.

Shows a photograph of a sketched design for some wallpaper, depicting a number of birds perching on a plant, which is growing through a trellis.

Photo: artwork for Trellis Wallpaper Design, 1862. Private Collection, Bridgeman Art LIbrary / Stapleton Collection.

The craftsman’s work and influence is looked at in a new light, drawing on new ground in featuring artists, designers and patrons responsible for bringing the Arts and Crafts movement to life in the region.

What is most striking about the exhibition is the collective feeling of familiarity with parts of his work, particularly his patterned wallpaper, which the artist is most famous for. Much of this you can imagine in your home as part of your own interior design.

The exhibition is split into two sections; the first introduces William Morris as designer and pioneer, demonstrating his influence on the Arts and Crafts movement.

Shows a photograph of a stained glass window, which depicts tomb effigies of two people and there are two dogs in the foreground.

Photo: the death of Sir Tristan from the story of Tristan and Isolde. Stained glass window c.1862. Bradford Art Galleries and Museums - Bridgeman Art Library.

Included here are wallpaper designs and the hand-woven tapestries of Pomona and Alleluia by Morris himself.

The semi Pre-Raphaelite pieces show truly beautiful, rich silky colours and provide a striking example of his early creative talents produced during his training.

The second part contains objects previously unexhibited taken from private collections and local establishments. Included is the mesmerising sight of the altar tapestry from St Hilda’s church in Jesmond, Newcastle.

Shows a photograph of a flowered wallpaper design.

Photo: Chrysanthemum Wallpaper designed by William Morris, 1876. Private Collection, Bridgeman Art Library.

Ensuring the exhibition appeals to a wide audience much consideration has gone into making it as enjoyable and educational as possible for children.

To aid with understanding the history of the pieces, an online quiz has been set up to test children’s (and adults – I had a go!) knowledge of William Morris. To continue the learning curve, there are posters to colour in, copying the colours used in his work as well as question and information cards on show throughout the room.

The array of work featured makes this a must-see exhibition and reiterates the notion that good design is indeed timeless.

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