‘Have nothing in your houses that you do not believe to be beautiful’

The newly reopened William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow is hosting a commercial exhibition of new work by artists from the Society of Designer Craftsmen, the largest multi-craft society in the UK.

Nacre, paper porcelain
Nacre, paper porcelain layered vessel by Judith Battersby

Everyday Encounters is a response to Morris’ doctrine, ‘Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful’. The exhibition brings together a range of artefacts which explore the potential of materials, decoration, narrative and the role of craft in everyday life: Morris’ legacy to contemporary crafts. Twenty-eight members of the Society were shortlisted to present textiles, ceramics, mixed media and metal work dedicated to the enrichment of the smallest acts of living. 

Shoal
Shoal, hand-stitched textile sculpture by Jenny Ford, velvet and mixed media

There is a particular emphasis on unusual interpretations of materials. Sometimes these appear to fight against functionality, such as Marion Hewitt’s glass books, but all encompass an immaculate attention to the attributes and associations of the materials, such as Jenny Ford’s melting textile sculptures, and Rosalind Robert’s lamp which wittily recycles a ‘discarded book’.

Contortion, Rosalind Roberts
Contortion: Contorted hazel, burr elm base, discarded book, by Rosalind Roberts

Several of the works include a conceptual as well as a craft element, such as Susie Vickery’s ‘I-bandolier’, encircling the wearer in the paradox of the manual force behind mass production. Amarjeet K. Nandhra’s printed and stitched hangings are particularly impressive in their conceptual and graphic elements, with an emphasis on cracks and fissures, and the beauty of use.

Hangings, Amarjeet K Nandhra
Printed and stitched hangings by Amarjeet K. Nandhra

The choice of objects and curation of the exhibition is structured upon the Gallery’s key interpretations of Morris’ life and work, demonstrated in the different rooms of the recent refurbishment. Key focuses include the influence of fellow designers, the commercial values manifested by Morris & Co, the idea of the multifaceted object of design (exemplified in the ‘Ideal Book’), and the role of Morris as an activist for socialism, the environment, and heritage.

Stoneware, Pam Schomberg
Stoneware plate, jug and pot on three legs, Pam Schomberg.

The curatorial ethos of the gallery is anchored by Morris’ own values, but seeks to provide a contemporary interpretation of ideals tempered by the necessities and preoccupations of modern living. The Society of Designer Craftsmen holds a debt to Morris’ ideals; founded as the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society in 1887, it was created at the height of the Arts and Crafts movement, with Morris as its president from 1891. However, the Gallery permits the objects their own breathing space; this is an exhibition of possibility, not merely commemoration.

William Morris Gallery
The William Morris Gallery, photographer Oliver Dixon/ Imagewise

Everyday Encounters is on show at the William Morris Gallery, Forest Road, London, E17, from 13 October ­ 3 February 2013.

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