William Morris | The Arts and Crafts Movement

William Morris, Windrush (furnishing fabric), 1883 | © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Part Ten Chapter 9

We ask Berglind about her teaching, about how her lecture went.

̶  Good, she says. It was on William Morris and the Arts and Crafts Movement. The work is so beautiful, the students always take to it.

Archibald Knox, cigarette box, 1904 | © V&A Museum

William Arthur Smith Benson, tray, 1894 | © V&A Museum

Part Five Chapter 9

You’d watched him make the mobile, you’d admired his sense of craftsmanship as he cut and smoothed a concave curve in an aluminium element, used the round-nose pliers to bend the bail wire into the desired shape, or looped the connecting rods with precisely calculated twists. How far back does it go, your intuition that a manual task well-done has something to do with ethics? That the hand teaches the mind no less than the mind the hand, and that for the hand and the heart it’s the same?



The Arts and Crafts movement in Britain was animated by three principal ideas. The first was ‘the Unity of Art,’ Arts and Crafts people opposed the hierarchy in which the arts were arranged in late-Victorian Britain: painting and sculpture at the top as fine arts; architecture somewhere in the middle, less artistic but still with high professional status; and the decorative arts at the bottom, their status low both artistically and professionally. They argued that, in the Middle Ages, this hierarchy had not existed; and that in their own day, painters, sculptors, architects, and decorative artists should be on an equal footing again.

William A. S. Benson, oil table lamp, 1895 | © V&A Museum

Sidney Barnsley, bed, 1900s | © V&A Museum

The second idea was ‘Joy in Labor.’ The idea was that the ordinary experience of work can become a source of pleasure through the play of imagination. Like so much of the Arts and Crafts movement, this idea was rooted in a Romantic sense of the past, and specifically in a long passage called ‘The Nature of Gothic’ in the second volume of John Ruskin’s The Stones of Venice, published in 1853. Ruskin read the history of Venice in its buildings, and when he looked at the carved detail of Venetian Gothic buildings, he imagined the workmen to be ordinary workmen of their time. Left to their own imaginations, he thought, they produced carvings which were rough, vivid, and imaginative.

The third idea was ‘Design Reform,’ that is, a movement to improve the design of objects consumed by the public. Arts and Crafts designers were generally high-minded people and they talked about their work in terms of ‘honesty,’ ‘simplicity,’ and ‘the nature of materials.’ Though words like these could be embodied in Arts and Crafts designs in complex and contradictory ways, they did encourage Arts and Crafts people to feel that they had a mission to improve public taste.


From Alan Crawford, ‘Ideas and Objects: The Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain’, Design Issues, Vol. 13, No. 1 (Spring, 1997). The full text is available on JSTOR.

Ernest Gimson, candle sconce, 1910 | © V&A Museum