In Depth

The daughter also rises: remembering the work of May Morris

A new exhibition at the William Morris Gallery focuses on his youngest child, one of the forgotten heroines of the Arts and Crafts movement

Often obscured by her famous father's notable influence in the art world, May Morris's own considerable contribution to the British Arts and Crafts movement will be explored in a landmark exhibition at Walthamstow's William Morris Gallery. In what will be the most comprehensive review of her work to date, May Morris: Art & Life sees more than 80 pieces gathered from collections across the country. Featuring her embroideries, jewellery and dresses, as well as book designs, sketches and wallpaper, the partially crowd-funded show also pays homage to her critical role in supporting female artists.

The social status held by the Morris family afforded May and her older sister Jenny a childhood surrounded by Victorian London's most prominent artists. Having modelled for the Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti as a child, May quickly embarked upon her own creative endeavours. Studying at the National Art Training School, she went on to become the director of the embroidery department at Morris & Co at the age of 23, designing some of the retailer's most notable creations. Her pioneering work has been credited with transforming needlework from a domestic craft to an art form in itself, and the upcoming exhibition provides a unique opportunity to experience a number of rarely seen works, including a set of silk hangings designed by Morris whilst at Morris & Co. It also reveals the more intimate side of her life, and on display will be a hand-painted Valentine's card she made for playwright George Bernard Shaw.

Influenced by her parents socialist leanings, the young artisan was also frustrated by the exclusion of women from the Art Workers Guild, and recognising an opportunity to support female craft workers, founded the Women's Guild of Arts in 1907. Throughout the 1890s and 1900s she exhibited her work both at home and internationally, as well as embarking on a lecture tour of the United States where her work was received particularly warmly. On this tour Morris strove to preserve the memory of her father and, although her own importance as an artist was largely forgotten during the 20th century, her lectures and her safeguarding of her family's possessions for museums around the UK ensured that the Morris legacy was cherished in British cultural circles.

May Morris: Art & Life runs from 7 October 2017 to 28 January 2018 at the William Morris Gallery, Lloyd Park, Forest Road, Walthamstow, London E17 4PP; wmgallery.org.uk

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