Early Sources and Ideals

Early Sources and Ideals
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In the late 1880s, the Arts and Crafts became an established movement, with an exhibition society and a name, but its philosophical and stylistic sources are earlier. In the mid-nineteenth century, John Ruskin (1819–1900), the leading art critic in Britain, articulated the movement’s fundamental, and purest, ideology. He pled for individuality and honesty in design, declaring that stylistic deceit was “as truly deserving of reprobation as any other moral delinquency.” He was equally fervent about the process of making, and to him medieval architecture and the guild system were the only possible models for labor that gave joy to the worker.

It was William Morris, however, who had the most far-reaching influence. Many individuals, societies, and companies in Britain, Europe, and the United States modeled themselves on his example. In protest against the manufacture of soulless factory goods, he established the firm of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. in 1861, which was reorganized as Morris & Co. in 1875. Employing the talents of painters and architects, the firm produced furniture, textiles, stained glass, and tiles.

For many Arts and Crafts leaders, the reform of how objects were produced was not enough, and their ambitions took a radical, political turn. Morris himself grew disenchanted with the crafts as an effective response to the inhumanity of modern society, and in 1883 he formally allied himself with socialism. Walter Crane, like many other designers represented in this exhibition, shared Morris’s convictions. Crane, too, joined the Socialist League, and designed many prints in support of the cause.

- Wendy Kaplan (2005)