Beginning in Britain around 1880, the Arts and Crafts movement was born from the values of people concerned about the effects of industrialization on design and traditional craft. In response, architects, designers, craftsmen, and artists turned to new ways of living and working, pioneering new approaches to create decorative arts.
One of the most influential figures during this time was William Morris, who actively promoted the joy of craftsmanship and the beauty of the nature. Having produced over 50 wallpaper designs throughout his career, Morris became an internationally renowned designer and manufacturer. Other creatives such as architects, painters, sculptors and designers began to take up his ideas. They began a unified art and craft approach to design, which soon spread across Europe and America.
Strawberry Thief 1880 designed by William Morris. One of his most iconic designs.
Born in Walthamstow, East London in March 1834, William Morris was a poet, artist, philosopher, typographer, political theorist, and arguably the most celebrated designer of the Arts & Crafts movement. He strived to protect and revive the traditional techniques of handmade production that were being replaced by machines during the Victorian era’s Industrial Revolution.
As a designer, William created many wallpaper designs. Inspired by nature, Morris’ designs feature leaves, vines, and flowers that he observed in his gardens or on walks in the countryside. Rather than life-like illustrations, his drawings are subtly stylized versions.
My love of William Morris and the arts and crafts movement began when I became an Occupational Therapist. I learned that;
“By the turn of the 20th century, the arts-and-crafts movement’s advocates formed a network which reached across America. Proponents were eager reformers celebrating nature, authentic experience, and honest design. Like their British contemporaries, they displayed a patrician contempt for the system of mass production, which was keyed to lower class tastes. They advocated the use of natural materials and processes and the purchase and use of hand-made items that were straightforward and simple in design. Indeed, for some advocates, the arts-and-crafts movement meant quality of design as much as quality of life.”
There were physicians who argued the whole mind body connection in healing was being overlooked. People suffering from Neurasthenia were not being treated properly and this malady was being linked to the strain of American life. Dr. Herbert Hall started a work cure method for treatment of these type of patients. This would take the place of the traditional bed rest treatment. He would draw his principles directly from the Arts & Crafts movement philosophies; “…maintained that machines and factory work limited human happiness. He urged a return to simpler ways of life where experience was “more authentic” because less complicated by modern bureaucratic and industrial structures.”
Two other physicians, Adolph Meyer and William Rush Dunton (more on him another time) also joined Hall in his discussion of humanizing treatment of the chronically ill. Others in this time period also came on board and became standard names in my Occupational Therapy history courses.
The Arts-and-Crafts Origins in Occupational Therapy
Early occupational therapy practice combined the therapeutic and medical with the diversional and recreational use of activities. One of the earliest sources of overlap between these applications was the sheltered workshop. Hall and other physicians championed the development of sheltered workshops where patients produced carefully designed, well-made objects such as hand towels, ceramic vases, and cement pots. The craft objects were sold in shops that had three purposes-to employ talented people who could earn a living by making authentic objects, to give spiritual support to craftspeople who pursued crafts as an avocation, and to help employ the mentally and physically handicapped (“Craftsmanship,” 1906; Evans, 1974; Roorbach, 1913; Simkhovitch, 1906).
For 20 years I taught Introduction to Occupational Therapy to my first year students. It was always exciting to revisit this rich history. Then I discovered Michelle Hill. She was a quilter who took inspiration from William Morris and his designs and created her own quilt designs.
UREEKA!! What a way to incorporate my love of the Arts & Crafts movement and applique, especially using my hand-dyed wool!
Now that I am retired I can delve deeper into this art form. Recently I completed a small quilt I hung on my wall using William Morris Christmas fabrics.
I am continuing to study his work and my next project will have wool applique in it. Who knew my love of crafts would lead me to Occupational therapy and William Morris and back to crafts. I have come full circle!
Happy Creating! Anita