The legacy of William Morris carries on
for a disappearing natural world is nothing new, it has recently gained huge momentum. Standen House, designed for the wealthy ealthy Beale family by architect Phillip Webb, was filled from top to bottom with ith motifs of birds and hares, seaweeds s and sunflowers by Webb’s close friend, end, the textile designer and social al activist William Morris.
Standen epitomises itomises the English country y house look. “Morris’s love of f nature was a wellspring for his is work,” says Alice Strickland, Standen’s curator. “He possessed essed an understanding and deep love of flowers, trees, birds, irds, animals and insects. In his is designs he often chose to use field and hedgerow plants such as dog rose and honeysuckle ysuckle and the curving branches anches of oak and willow.”
But beneath these hese designs, for Morris at least, there here was a deeper meaning. He hated ted the choking smogs, polluted rivers and urban sprawl that the Industrial Revolution had unleashed on the environment. His designs captured a vanishing ecology: “Apart from the desire to produce beautiful things, the leading passion of my life has been and is hatred of modern civilisation,” he wrote. Form was beautiful only if it was in accord with nature. “I must have unmistakable suggestions of gardens and fields, and strange trees, boughs and tendrils, or I can’t do with your pattern,” he advised one designer. “Conservation of the countryside went with the idea that art belonged to everyone,” says Fiona MacCarthy, one of Morris’s biographers. “Morris saw how human beings depended on nature, noting the effect of the… landscape in lifting the spirits and contributing to psychological equilibrium. “He viewed with desperation the speed with which Britain was becoming vulgarised and uglified,” she adds. Many Morris scholars, among them John Blewitt, have begun to reappraise his legacy in terms of the environment, and Morris is hailed today as an eco-socialist whose vision of a future utopia – expressed in his novel – was linked to ecological
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