The Arts and Crafts Movement of the late 19th century occurred throughout Europe and North America as a direct response to the Industrial Revolution and the effects it had on the quality of everyday goods and household products. There was a steady decline in the necessity for craftspeople and artisans to maintain their businesses. While business was dropping off for some, so was the quality of common household products like kitchenware, books, wooden furniture, and so on. After the Great Exhibition of 1851 occurred in Hyde Park, London, in which modern industrial technology and design were featured, many considered these products to be excessively ornate, artificial, and ignorant of the qualities of materials used. The Arts and Crafts movement was then started by design reformers and social activists alike who rejected the modern industrial ways and embraced more traditional styles. Some major inspirations were medieval, romantic, and folk styles of decoration.
One activist in particular is William Morris, a British textile designer, novelist, and artist who was a leader in the arts and crafts movement and whose contributions have made their way into the 21st century. Morris began making furniture, textiles, and decorative objects for his company, Morris & Co. in 1861, modelling his designs on medieval styles and using bold forms and strong colours. He took a lot of inspiration from the natural world, flora and fauna, and the domestic traditions of the British countryside. He emphasized nature and the simplicity of form through his work, and always insisted on learning the techniques of production prior to making a design. He promoted the idea that the design and production of an item should go hand in hand, and that where possible those creating items should be designer-craftsmen, thereby both designing and manufacturing their goods.
Throughout his life, Morris revived many crafting and design techniques that had been considered dead due to industrialization. He produced items in a range of crafts, including over 600 designs for wall-paper, textiles, and embroideries, over 150 for stained glass windows, three typefaces, including Golden, Troy, and Chaucer, and around 650 borders and ornamentations for the Kelmscott Press. He also supported the use of good quality raw materials, almost all natural dyes, and hand-processed goods throughout all of his work. He and his daughter May even made designs for panels for "embroider yourself" kits for cushion covers, fireplace screens, doorway curtains, bedcovers and other household objects.
The driving force behind the movement essentially was to place value back on traditional crafting skills and styles which produced high-quality and thoughtfully designed goods and services for everyday people. The movement has made a clear impact on today’s world as well. With examples like in fall of 2018, when H&M teamed up with Morris & Co to release a clothing line featuring the styles and patterns designed by William Morris himself. An article came out at the time, along with a statement by the company’s design director, stating that “the prints are some of the most recognized and loved around the world, while William Morris is not only synonymous with the Arts and Crafts movement, but also a strong advocate of beautiful design.” Although I don’t think William Morris himself would have been the biggest advocate for fast-fashion in the 21st century, his work has made an undeniable impact on graphic design today.
A piece from H&M's 2018 collection featuring Morris' designs.
There is a clear importance behind preserving ancient traditions and adapting old techniques for the modern world. This is something that many organizations continue to strive to accomplish today. The spirit of making that the Arts and Crafts Movement inspired is seeing a resurgence, exemplified by the ‘Maker’ culture.
William Morris and his contemporaries exhibited a fervent spirit and a driven passion for preserving the ancient techniques of craft-making throughout the Arts and Crafts movement. These early craftsmen were determined to create a world and an industry in which handmade creations are valued as an integral piece to society’s puzzle. As well, they did this by allowing pathways for knowledge and wisdom to be shared amongst handicrafts old and young, similar to Hello Jack’s platform. These same values can be seen in our organization, as it is our mission to encourage the new generation of makers and creatives today.