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William Morris Society in the United States
Newsletter January 1989


MLA ACTIVITIES IN NEW ORLEANS

 

William Morris Society events at MLA this year included two special sessions, a business meeting, and a cash bar.
Hartley Spatt has submitted summaries of the first session, which he chaired, on "Morris and the Arts and Crafts."
David Faldat (College of Idaho): "Seeking the Ideal: Yeats, the Cuala Press, and the Morris Legacy," an illustrated talk.
"The Kelmscott Press represented Morris's attempt to create books crafted with the same sense of tradition and aesthetic unity that went into his writing. Through the presses founded by Elizabeth Yeats, inspired by Morris, W. B. Yeats was able to initiate the publication of his own poems, in volumes that show a similar respect for traditional craft and the poet's own sense of perfect beauty."
Sandi Wisenberg (School of the Art Institute of Chicago): "William Morris on the Americans," a poem.
"This poem, published in Benchmarks: Anthology of Contemporary Illinois Poetry (1988), presents Morris lamenting the way American consumers of his wares fail to understand his philosophy. Finally, he finds solace in the work itself--in the plants he uses to produce his dyes, and in nature itself."
Victor Luftig (Yale): "Bloomsbury and the Denial of Morris."
"Roger Fry's Omega Workshops display a clear, though often denied, descent from Morris & Co., through Arthur Mackmurdo's Century Guild and C. R. Ashbee's Guild of Handicraft. The connection is important for aesthetic studies of Bloomsbury too, for it provides a model of comparative vision that is crucial to the sense of closure in Duncan Grant's painting and in Virginia Woolf's novels. Though Bloomsbury denied Morris, they could not erase his vocabulary and ideas."
Charlotte Oberg (University of Richmond): "Morris and the Plight of the Contemporary Craftsmen," an illustrated talk.
"Morris's conviction that true craftsmanship can only be realized after the recasting of society into a 'society of equals' is borne out by a look at four different crafts now being practiced by Virginia and North Carolina artisans. Their economic difficulties have led to compromises and privations all too familiar to Morris himself. Furthermore, the arts and crafts in America today seem to be under a new threat--an increasing tendency toward institutionalization in all aspects of the arts and crafts movement, including training, production, and collecting."
Florence Boos moderated the second session. She reports on it and on the business meeting that followed:
"William Morris and Twentieth Century Social Thought" was held the next morning at 8.30 A.M. As chair, I began with brief remarks on contemporary analogues of Morris's social beliefs, among which I counted the word's peace movements, official and unofficial, East and West; Green movements throughout the world, as these are reflected in movements such as the West German Grüne and organizations such as Greenpeace; feminist re-examination of traditional "realistic" distinctions between "public" and "private," "personal and communal," and "trivial" and "important" in social and political life (compare Morris's defense of the "lesser" arts), and reevaluations of the role of caring and affection as an essential part of social justice; and finally, a growing awareness of that (most of all) the third world forms the real global counterpart of the proletariat whose cause Morris struggled to defend.
Professor Nancy James Taylor (University of South Florida) presented the first paper, on "William Morris and the Mob," in which she compared Morris's efforts to persuade discouraged, apathetic, and hostile working class audiences with the sociologist Serge Moscovici's observations on group behavior in L'age des Foules (1981; trans. 1985 as The Age of the Crowd). In her conclusion, she remarked that:
Morris, more than most of his contemporary revolutionaries, presumed a rational populace. But there were times when he doubted the assumption. The failure of his hopes for society has invited estimates by Mackail and many echoing voices that he was "muddle-headed" and impractical. But it may have been to Morris's personal credit that he was no leader, if it is true that the great leaders have been individuals of courage rather than mind. Morris had both. If he lacked the qualities needed to initiate sweeping change, the failure of vision may well have been not on his part, but in those he sought to change.
The second speaker was Larry Lutchmansingh (Bowdoin), who provided the following summary of his paper on "Amanda Coomaraswamy and William Morris":
Morris exerted a wide influence on the life and intellectual career of Amanda Coomaraswamy, the Sinhalese-born keeper of Indian and Islamic art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, until his death in 1947. Responding to peculiar twentieth-century pressures, Coomaraswamy supported Morris's ideals with an incisive reading in classical, medieval, and Indian texts, but his sublimation of their political dimension highlights certain ongoing problems of Morris's interpretation.
The third paper, on "William Morris and the Frankfurt School," was presented by Jeffrey Skoblow (University of Southern Illinois-Edwardsville). Skoblow compared Morris's Marxism with the revisionist ideas of Horkheimer, Adorno, Benjamin, Fromm, and Marcuse, and noted the following distinctive feature of Morris's conception of art:
The first distinction to be made is that the power of art as a revolutionary force, for Morris, lies not, as it generally does for the Frankfurt School, in the content or style of particular works, but in its process as a model of unalienated labor . . . . The second distinction is that Morris asks us "to extend the word art beyond those matters which are consciously works of art, to take in not only painting and sculpture, and architecture, but the shapes and colors of all household goods, nay, even the arrangement of the fields for tillage, and pasture, the management of towns and of our highways of all kinds; in a word, to extend it to the aspect of all the externals of our life." . . . . In the end, the utopia that Morris and Marcuse urge upon us is not an image toward which we might strive, but a way to proceed, a way of being in the world now. This is a utopia that co-exists with tyranny, a freedom exercised in the face of domination.
The papers aroused spirited debate on many contemporary issues: the validity of Morris's definition of popular art; the present relevance of the ideas of the Frankfurt School; the gradualist or cataclysmic nature of Morris's utopian communism; and the ability of various forms of political action to effect social change. The debates would have gone on much longer if we hadn't had to vacate the room for another session. Another session on Morris's social thought two years ago aroused a similarly intense response; academics who care about Morris's work seem naturally to hold strong views on the frustrations of the present U. S. political climate.
After the session, Norman Kelvin, David Faldat, Linda Julian, Charlotte Oberg, Sandy Wisenberg, Hartley Spatt, and Florence Boos gathered for a business meeting. In an effort to help members plan ahead, we made a tentative choice of topics for the 1989 and 1990 MLA conventions, to be held in Washington, DC and in Chicago, respectively. Contributions are invited for two panels this coming December, one on "William Morris and Fantasy" and the other on "Morris, Women, and Feminism." Prospectuses, papers, and suggestions for the first panel should be sent (by 12 March) to David Faldat, Department of English, College of Idaho, Caldwell, Idaho 83605, and for the second to Florence Boos, Department of English, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa 52242.
In Chicago, in December 1990, we hope to offer sessions on "Morris and the Fin de Siècle" and on "Morris and Architecture." In both cases talks which consider Morris's influence on local (midwestern) culture would be especially welcome. "Architecture" in the second panel is taken broadly to include any aspect of the decorative arts.
We agreed upon several others matters: an increase in annual dues (to align us with British rates), measures for the sale and storage of our books, publication in a limited edition of Helen Timo's edition of Morris's "The Widow's House by the Great Water," an early draft for The Water of the Wondrous Isles, publication of an updated directory of North American members, and collection of a volume of essays, edited by Hartley Spatt, tracing Morris's influence on North American culture. We also relayed an invitation from Hans Brill to participate in an informal meeting on work-in-progress at Kelmscott House next summer, and discussed the celebrations the British Society in planning for the centenary of News from Nowhere in 1990.
Our sessions and meetings were unusually cordial and productive this year, and we look forward to their sequel in Washington, DC next December. Gratitude is owed to our treasurer, Hartley Spatt, who flew from New York to New Orleans in a rushed thirty-hour period between other engagements, and tended to all the arrangements for the cash bar. David Faldat and I were grateful to make the session at all, since a snow and ice storm canceled our flights from Chicago; he eventually arrived via Dallas and I by way of Washington, DC.
Many of us lingered a day to satisfy discount-flight requirements, and wander around the French Quarter and into the outlying regions of the city. New Orleans at the New Year is crowded with football enthusiasts there to see the Sugar Bowl, and the gaudy tourist facade fronts pervasive unemployment and a school system which has never fully complied with the de-segregation decisions of the 1950s. Morris would have enjoyed the street entertainers, jazz concerts in the French Quarter, and general air of outdoor celebration, and appreciated the craftsmanship of the collection of Faberge jewels in the New Orleans Museum of Art. But he might also have noted that Louisiana has one of the nation's highest school dropout rates, and that the city's providers of menial services are uniformly black, while its managerial class and tourist population seem almost as uniformly white.

 

ANNOUNCEMENTS

"OH TO BE IN WILMINGTON, NOW THAT APRIL'S THERE":
"William Morris and Medievalism" will be one of the panel topics at this years meeting of the Northeast Modern Language Association, to be held in Wilmington, DE, 31 March to 2 April 1989. Details will not available for this newsletter but may be obtained from: Ida H. Washington, NEMLA Executive Secretary, Box 546, Middlebury, VT 05753.


MORRIS BOOKS AT DELAWARE ART MUSEUM
Those attending the NEMLA sessions will want to see an exhibition of the work of William Morris as writer, designer, and printer, held in the library of the Delaware Art Museum. This show runs for the month of March and will be held over into early April. On the afternoon of 1 April there will be a special guided tour of the Museum's famed Bancroft collection--considerably expanded and most attractively re-installed in the last year--and a look at the Morris show. All Morrisians all invited to attend, even if they have no connection with NEMLA. The Delaware Art Museum's address is 2301 Kentmere Parkway, Wilmington, DE 19806, telephone [302] 571-9590.
Speaking of the Delaware Art Museum, readers will like to learn that it has recently acquired two large gouache studies by Walter Crane for the murals--depicting Longfellow's poem, "The Skeleton in Armor"-- he executed in 1882 for Vinland, Catherine Lorillard Wolfe's country house at Newport, Rhode Island. As originally built by architects Peabody and Stearns, Vinland was furnished inside by the Morris firm. None of the Morris decor is in place; most of it was removed by the next owner, who replaced the wallpaper and carpets with gilt and marble in order to compete with the Vanderbilts' The Breakers, just to the south. What remained has now been dispersed: Crane's murals (used as a frieze in the library) were sold at auction last year by Vinland's present occupant, Salve Regina College. The series of seven stained glass windows, illustrating the Norse legends and designed by Burne-Jones, came into the hands of Louis C. Tiffany. One of these, "The Viking Ship," has survived and is now, fittingly, also in the Delaware Art Museum.


1890s CONFERENCE
The Lehigh Valley Association of Independent Colleges has announced "New Perspectives on the 1890s," a "multi-disciplinary conference" to take place 11-13 October 1989 at Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales, in Cedar Valley, PA. The sponsors are Allentown College, Cedar Crest College, Lafayette College, Lehigh University, Moravian College, and Muhlenberg College.
According to a preliminary notice, the attractions will include a turn-of-the-century theater presentation, a concert, a keynote address by an internationally recognized speaker, and the likely publication of proceedings. Submissions are encouraged from a variety of disciplines, including the arts, humanities, philosophy, religion, the social sciences, and the history of science and technology. The deadline for abstracts (450 words) is 1 February 1989. Address inquiries to: Daniel Ross or Tamara Alvarez-Detrell, Allentown College, Center Valley, PA 18034.


NEWS FROM NOWHERE CENTENARY FILM SEEKS HELP
From Nicholas Friend in England: I have been asked to act as convenor of a working party to celebrate the centenary of News from Nowhere in 1990. The working party has been formed, with members including the editor of the Society's Journal, Peter Faulkner; the new secretary of the Society, Peter Preston; the author of The Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood, Jan Marsh; and a lecturer in the history of ideas at Drew University, Stephen Coleman. Several proposals are under way, including exhibitions, editions, a book of essays, conferences, and a television film which it is intended should be shown on our Channel 4, perhaps the only one of our channels with a reputation for enlightenment . . .
Michael Orrom, of Filmdrama LTD. of London, who is a highly experienced documentary and feature film-maker has agreed to take on the project, and together we are raising funds. We are approaching Sandersons and Pearsons, and I thought I would write to you to ask if you know of any members of the Society, or any institutions, in the States who might be interested in contributing to such a project. We would be looking for a sum in the region of £50,000. If you have any ideas, and would like more information, Michael Orrom's address is: Filmdrama Ltd., 47 Frith Street, London W1, England.

 

NEWS OF MEMBERS AND PUBLICATIONS

 

ESSAYS ON MORRIS AND SOCIALISM:
The University of Minnesota Press (publisher of Mary Lago's Burne-Jones Talking, among other things) has accepted Socialism and the Literary Artistry of William Morris, a volume of essays edited by Florence Boos. This important book, expected to be issued in early 1990, will include the following: "Bellamy, Morris, and the Great Victorian Debate" by Alexander MacDonald (University of Regina), "William Morris and the Anarchist Tradition" by Lyman Tower Sargent (University of Missouri-St. Louis), "Morris's Socialist Chants and the Problems of Socialist Culture" by Christopher Waters (Center for European Studies, Harvard), "Boffin in Paradise, or the Artistry of Reversal in News from Nowhere" by Laura Donaldson (California State University-Fresno), "A Guest for the Future: News from Nowhere" by Norman Talbot (University of Newcastle), "The Encouragement and Warning of History: William Morris's A Dream of John Ball" by Michael Holzman (USC), "Narrative Design in The Pilgrims of Hope" by Florence Boos (University of Iowa), "Counter-Projects: William Morris and the Science Fiction of the 1890s" by Darko Suvin (McGill University), "Socialism Internalized: The Late Romances of William Morris" by Carole Silver (Yeshiva University), and "Archaeological Socialism: Utopia and Art in William Morris" by Lawrence Lutchmansingh (Bowdoin College).
It will be noted that this is an appropriately "Internationale" group of contributors, with representatives from England and Canada as well as the United States. Further details will be found in future Newsletters.


MORRIS AND UPDIKE:
Daniel Berkeley Updike and the British Connection is the title of a new publication issued by the Typophiles. The author, Martin Hutner, is described as the country's leading private collector of the work of Updike's Merrymount Press. A 'review of the influence that William Morris and the Arts and Crafts style had on Updike's early work,' the pamphlet is designed by Jerry Kelley and printed--with ten illustrations, most of them in color--at the Press of A. Colish. Most of the copies will be distributed among Typophiles members, but some will be available from booksellers at a price of $8.50.


'ARTS AND CRAFTS' IN THE NEW YORK TIMES
The special 'home design' section of The New York Times Magazine, 16 October 1988, was devoted to 'Where Designers Get Their Ideas.' Not surprisingly the 'Arts and Crafts' provided some inspiration--to two New Yorkers, Jed Johnson and Alan Wanzenberg, whose work was prominently featured. Wallpapers by Morris, furniture made by Gustav Stickley, Grueby pottery, and a rug designed by Charles Voysey are among the elements which they use for their clients who 'have included a dazzling array of celebrities, among them Jerry Hall, Mick Jagger, Richard Gere, and the late Andy Warhol.' It is interesting in this context to quote their comment that 'Morris fabrics are an extraordinary example of the kind of craftsmanship, attention to detail and design schemes we emulate . . . the thinking behind these objects is as appropriate today as it was a century ago.'


TYPOPHILES RECALL A MEMORABLE EVENT
By the time your read this, The Typophiles, a New York City organization devoted to the book arts, will have held a particularly interesting annual Christmas luncheon on 14 December. The meeting celebrated what the announcement described as 'the 100th anniversary of a momentous event in the history of modern printing'--Emery Walker's lantern-slide lecture, delivered on 15 November 1888 before the newly-formed Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society in London. As all Morrisians will recall, this was the stimulus which led, first to Morris's proposing to design a new typeface, and then to the founding of the Kelmscott Press.
The luncheon speaker was Herbert H. Johnson, professor of printing at the Rochester (New York) Institute of Technology. His topic, "What Hath Emery Wrought?" related some of the events which took place in England and America during the 'revival of printing' spurred by Walker and Morris, offering insight into how Walker's influence played a part in the development of three American book designers, D. B. Updike, Frederick Goudy, and Bruce Rogers.


BLACKWELLS CHRISTMAS CARD
John Walsdorf, the North American representative of Blackwell's (as well as a member of the Society and a dedicated Morris collector), has sent us one of his firm's handsome holiday greetings cards. It includes a quotation from Morris's The Novel on Blue Paper, preceded by an appropriate wood-engraving of a library interior. According to a printed note at the end the card was designed by Neil Shaver of the Yellow Barn Press and handset in Baskerville and Tudor, the illustration by John DePol being specially commissioned for the occasion. In giving the source for the quotation Mr. Walsdorf was kind enough to mention the edition of the novel edited by Penelope Fitzgerald and issued for the William Morris Society by the Journeyman Press.

 

OTHER MATTERS

MORRIS BOOKS ON THE MARKET
Two rare book dealers have in stock some Morris items which may be of interest to members.
Thomas G. Boss, long a private dealer and collector, has opened a new shop shared with the firm of Pepper and Stern--Rare Books (355 Boylston Street, Boston, MA 02116, [617] 421-1880). At the time of the Boston antiquarian book fair in November he had a number of books by and about Morris. These included the first edition of The Aeneid of Virgil (1876) in a Zaehnsdorf binding, presented by Morris to his mother and Japan paper copy of H. Buxton Forman's The Books of William Morris (1897). Two Kelmscott Press titles 13 on vellum; both editions of The Story of the Glittering Plain; The Defence of Guenevere (1858) in what appears to be an unrecorded variant binding.
Specializing in private press and illustrated books produced during the last 100 years, Joshua Heller Fine Books (P. O. Box 70268, Washington, DC 20088, [202] 234-6111) has offered a number of Morris items in recent catalogues. These have included an exceptionally fine copy of Morris's The Roots of the Mountains (1889), the special Whatman paper issue bound in Honeysuckle chintz, and the uncommon 12-volume shilling edition of The Earthly Paradise (1905) with the original prospectus inserted. Another highlight was the Kelmscott Well at the World's End, bound in original vellum. Jos Heller's recent talk before the Washington Rare Books Group, "Nicholas Parry and his Painting Press--A look at an artist-printer working in England today," had a tangential Morris connection. Nicholas and Mary Parry's work was seen as closely allied to that of Lucien and Esther Pissaro's Eragny Press, itself a continuation of the movement started by Morris and Kelmscott.


NATIONAL GALLERY OF ART ACQUIRES ROSSETTI AND BURNE-JONES
Well known for its Old Masters and French impressionists, the National Gallery of Art in Washington has been building up its relatively small British holdings. Until recently there were only the Blakes and Beardsleys given by Lessing J. Rosenwald and a few rather minor drawings by Burne-Jones and Leighton which formed part of the Julius Held collection. Now, a continuing program of purchases and donations has resulted in some notable acquisitions, including watercolors by Constable, Turner, and Sandby.
The Gallery has just added two important Pre-Raphaelite drawings to its collection. The first, by Rossetti, is a n exquisite pen and ink portrait of Mrs. Morris reclining on a sofa. The drawing, once in the collection of Cyril Flower, Lord Battersea, is dated 1873 and listed as no. 383 in Virginia Surtees's catalogue raisonné. Burne-Jones's Ariadne, a large and very beautiful mixed-media color study of a single figure, was bought with funds given by (of all generous people!) Armand Hammer. This was commissioned in 1863 by Ruskin, who hoped that the Morris firm would produce a tapestry based on the design for a new house he contemplated building in the Lake district or in Switzerland.


LIST OF BOOKS AVAILABLE FROM
THE William Morris Society in the United States
All at attractive (and in some cases newly reduced) prices

The Juvenilia of William Morris
FLORENCE BOOS
Hardcover $6.00/paper $4.00

The Book That Never Was
JOSEPH R. DUNLAP
Hardcover, in slipcase $10.00 (formerly $15.00)

The After-Summer Seed: Reconsiderations of Sigurd the Volsung
Essays, edited by JOHN HOLLOW
Paper $6.00

Introductions to the Collected Works of William Morris
MAY MORRIS
2 vols. Hardcover $24.00 (formerly $35.00)

The Golden Chain: Essays on Morris's Pre-Raphaelitism
Edited by CAROLE SILVER
Hardcover $11.00/paper $4.00

Four Letters from William Morris
Introduction and commentary by PETER STANSKY
Printed by the Arion Press in honor of Morris's 150th birthday
Morris pattern wrappers $5.00 (formerly $7.00)

Orders should be accompanied by checks made out to HARTLEY SPATT, 24 Center Street, Woodmere, NY 11598.
Please include postage, which is $2.00 for each hardcover book, $1.00 for each paperbound book. For foreign orders please inquire.

 

LAST UPDATE 4 JAN 2001 · PLEASE REPORT BROKEN LINKS TO WEBMASTER@MORRISSOCIETY.ORG