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Exhibit, events focus on vision of William Morris

February  29, 2012

William Morris, age 53. (Portrait by Frederick Hollyer/ Wikipedia Commons)

An exhibit and two literary events at Augustana College this spring will focus on William Morris, English designer, artist and writer associated with the Pre-Raphaelites and the Arts and Crafts Movement.

Morris is widely seen as one of the most creative artists Britain ever produced. A revolutionary interior designer and book printer, he also was a famous and prolific poet, weaver, embroiderer, dyer, calligrapher, translator and architectural preservationist. He established the internationally successful Morris & Company, for which he mastered the design and production of stained glass, wallpaper, printed and woven textiles, carpet and tapestry.

• From March 5-May 17 the exhibit "William Morris: Visions of an Ideal World" will be on view at the Thomas Tredway Library (hours).

It will include books produced by the Kelmscott Press, a private printing press started by Morris in 1891. Complementing the books will be Arts and Crafts objects from the Augustana College Art Museum. Other items in the display will show the beauty of Morris' designs for textiles and wallpaper as reproduced in contemporary books and on a calendar, scarf, china, tile, and container. Hours are 7:30 a.m.-midnight

• On March 15, Owen S. Rogal, professor of English at St. Ambrose University, will give the lecture "Aesthetics for the 99% by Ruskin & Morris: Why You Should Read the Victorians" at 4:30 p.m. at the library (second floor south).

• On April 11, there will be a reading, "Morris & Co.: A Reading of Victorian Poets," by faculty and students to celebrate National Poetry Month. It will take place beginning at 4 p.m. at the library (second floor south).

Morris designed and printed more than 50 books at Kelmscott Press, including works by Coleridge, Keats, Shelley, Tennyson and Chaucer. He designed his own typefaces, made his own paper and printed by hand. The books were meant to be works of art appreciated in themselves as well as for the writing they contained. Morris wrote many books of poetry, fiction, essays and translations of medieval texts.

Library staff members who have an interest in Morris and Arts and Crafts came up with the idea for the exhibit and related events.

Three of the eight books featured in the library display belong to Special Collections librarian Sarah Horowitz. The display also includes books from other private presses — Doves Press and the Roycroft Press — which were influenced by Morris. He is widely considered to be the founder of the private press movement, and his ideas about beautiful books and book design were highly influential, Horowitz said.

"I think that Morris is particularly important in a time when we see so much of the world only digitally, as reproductions," she said. "His emphasis on the design of the whole object, as well as fine craftsmanship, reminds us that there can be something unique and special about each single item, be it a book, a piece of cloth, or a desk, and that we should think of each object as a unified whole."

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was a group of English painters, poets, and critics, founded in 1848 by Morris, Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Their aim was to avoid conventional art and they often produced magic or symbolic scenes in bright colors. The international Arts and Crafts movement flourished from 1860 into the 20th century, led by Morris and writer John Ruskin. They favored traditional craftsmanship and sought to improve decorative design.

Morris famously wrote: "Beauty, which is what is meant by art, using the word in its widest sense is, I contend, no mere accident to human life, which people can take or leave as they choose, but a positive necessity of life, if we are to live as nature meant us to; that is, unless we are content to be less than men."