I’m currently writing a novel that features May Morris in an increasingly central role. As daughter of William Morris, May has often been ignored in favour of her father’s legacy. In part, this was due to May’s own efforts, as she spent years curating her father’s collected works – along with commissioning a house in his memory and ensuring Kelmscott Manor would remain a memorial to William Morris.
May ascribed to similar politics to her father, who famously asked “What business have we with art at all unless all can share it?”, and she worked hard to ensure her father’s work reached as many people as possible, long after his death. However, until now, her own work has been largely overlooked.
Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to visit Kelmscott Manor and meet one of the curators of the Mary Lobb exhibition. Mary Lobb was May Morris’s lady gardener and companion, living with her at Kelmscott Manor for the later part of her life. I’ve written more about the pair in the November issue of Diva magazine. I also got to see some of May’s work at Kelmscott.
Although I’ve been researching May Morris for a while, my visit to Kelmscott was the first time I’ve seen her embroidery up close. The work feels alive though it’s often rendered in simple stitches. I adore the nature themes, and would love to create my own Homestead and the Forest quilt one day, even if it is a tad ambitious a goal…
The quilt features Kelmscott Manor in the centre, surrounded by forests full of ‘beasts’, but protected within a moat. While I’m not sure lions and tigers ever prowled Victorian Oxfordshire, it’s a beautiful piece.
I was lucky enough to see it again this week at the William Morris Gallery, which currently has a free May Morris exhibition, showcasing her work. It’s the most comprehensive survey of May’s work to date, ‘bringing together over 80 works from collections around the UK, many of which have never been on public display’, and is full of beautiful artefacts and interesting insight.
My favourite discovery of the exhibition was that the Morris household could be playful and guests ‘often pelted each other with apples’.
I was impressed to see so many of May’s diverse talents on display. In addition to embroidery, drawing, painting, writing and editing, she also designed this wonderful dress, along with gloves, jewellery and the well-known Honeysuckle print (which many falsely attribute to her father).
The May Morris exhibition is well worth visiting – and better yet, it’s free. Its also close to Walthamstow Wetlands, which I wrote about yesterday.
Enjoy arts, culture and nature for free by visiting both places in one day. I can’t help but thinking William and May Morris would have approved…
May Morris: Art and Life is on until 28 Jan 2018.