We’ve recently launched a new online exhibition on the website devoted to one of the most important women in the Arts and Crafts Movement and a leading light in the revival of embroidery: May Morris. She has recently been celebrated in Royal Mail’s latest set of commemorative stamps, Britons of Distinction. In this set she stands alongside architects Basil Spence and A W N Pugin, composer Frederick Delius and inventor of the atmospheric steam engine. To find out May Morris’s story and see examples of her work, go to our new online exhibition.
May Morris would have been the first to admit that she stood in her famous father’s shadow. Not surprising when your father was William Morris, the most important man in the Arts and Crafts Movement as well as poet, political activist and writer. But May was an extremely accomplished woman. From a very young age it was expected that she would be skilled at craft, and she was encouraged to pursue a career. She learnt embroidery from her mother, Jane Morris, and aunt, Bessie Burden, and when she was only 23 she took over the management of Morris & Company’s embroidery section.
She was a highly skilled embroiderer in her own right, and a designer. The Art Gallery & Museum has recently acquired a piece of Morris and Company embroidery designed by her. She wrote extensively on embroidery, taught and gave lectures on the subject. But she wasn’t only interested in embroidery: she designed jewellery, was heavily involved in the Socialist League, had aspirations as a playwright and went on to edit her father’s complete works.
In her latter years she spent a lot of time in the village of Kelmscott. William Morris rented Kelmscott Manor from when May was a little girl, and her mother bought the house after Morris’s death. May involved herself in the life of the village, commissioning cottages and a village hall, as well as giving practical help to the villagers.
She was a great friend of the printer Emery Walker, whose library and archive the Art Gallery & Museum holds, and many of the images on the online exhibition come from this archive.