A true delight: Exploring the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow

By Ruth Hazard | 03 July 2013

Review: Ruth Hazard visits The William Morris Gallery, in Walthamstow.

a photo of an interior with display cases at the William Morris Gallery
© Oliver Dixon / Imagewise
Having heard tales of landscaped gardens, lavish embroidery and homemade cake, The William Morris Gallery has been woefully languishing on my museum bucket list since the house reopened last summer.

Spurred on by its recent victory as Museum of the Year 2013 I decided it was finally time to take a trip to Walthamstow and see what all the fuss was about.

Despite acquiring the much coveted title, the gallery hasn’t let success go to its head. This was just like any other Saturday afternoon; visitors drifting around the house, picnicking on the lawn and drinking William Morris blend tea in the Orangery cafe.

a photo of the textile and prinitng gallery space at the William Morris Gallery
© Oliver Dixon / Imagewise
It’s a good thing too, because it’s these modest charms that make the gallery quite simply, a lovely place to be. The rooms of the artist’s former home brim with imaginatively presented exhibits and intriguing anecdotes, managing to make the balance between informative and entertaining look totally effortless.

Although there are the standard hallmarks of a modern museum – such as interactive screens and video exhibits – it’s not been overdone. Instead there’s a 19th century’ workshop where you can learn about textile production or a reimagined version of the original Morris & Co showroom in Bloomsbury that vie to keep visitors entertained.

Of course it helps that Morris makes for excellent subject matter. Poet, craftsman, designer, embroider, artist and entrepreneur, he was visionary in his ideas and wilful in his ambitions.

As such, fact-fans will find the display a true delight; Morris studied architecture, mastered oil painting, wrote one of the longest narrative poems in the English language, set up his own publishing house, travelled to Iceland and campaigned at socialist rallies.

That’s not to mention his marriage to Jane Burden, a socially rebellious move due her lower status, and his heartbreak at her extended affair with Dante Gabriel Rossetti. William Morris was a fascinating man and he is captured justly by a fascinating exhibition.

The gallery reminds us of what a museum should be. Not a stuffy, formal place of tired exhibits and rigid text, but a place that embodies Morris’ ethos – ‘art for all’. And the cake is pretty good too. Museum of the Year indeed.

  • Open 10am- 6pm daily. Admission free. Follow the gallery on Twitter @WMGallery
a photo of a funiture display at the William Morris Gallery
© Oliver Dixon / Imagewise

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