May Morris, the subject of Emery Walker's House's next online talk, may have been overshadowed for many years by her famous father William, but recently she has stepped into the limelight and been acknowledged as an outstanding artist in her own right.
A Hammersmith resident from 1878 to 1920s, she was a lecturer, writer, editor, accomplished designer and jeweller, but it is her work as an embroiderer that is considered to be her greatest achievement.
This skill led May to be in charge of the embroidery side of her father's business, Morris & Co for which she employed West London residents, including Lily Yeats (sister of WB Yeats), at the Hammersmith workshops in Upper Mall, Iffley Road and her home at 8 Hammersmith Terrace.
Hammersmith had become a hotbed of Arts & Crafts artists, who collaborated and congregated at the Morris's home at Kelmscott House for weekly Socialist meetings in the coach house. May's friends included the playwright George Bernard Shaw who moved into Hammersmith Terrace with her and her husband, Emery Walker's family next door at number 7, and designers Eric Gill and Edward Johnston.
"What distinguishes her from her designer father William Morris and her mother Jane, who was a skilled needlewoman, is that May could both design and embroider, and was amazingly skilled at both," explains Helen Elletson, Senior Curator at Emery Walker's House and Curator of Research and Development at the William Morris Society. Helen, who will be giving the talk explains,
"Like her father, she was multitalented and could design and make jewellery, write books on needlework, and lecture on embroidery both here and abroad."
"You can detect from the ways that she puts her colours together that she had an extensive knowledge of nature and medieval embroidery."
Medieval England had been feted throughout the world for its exquisite embroidery. Opus Anglicanum, Latin for 'English work', was first coined in the 13th century to describe the highly-prized and decorative masterpieces made of silk and gold and silver. However, by Victorian times needlework had gone into a steep decline. Berlin wool work had become the norm, a much more prosaic form of needlework typically executed with wool yarn on canvas worked in a single stitch such as cross stitch.
May's knowledge of needlework, her talent for designing and her brilliance with the needle led to her helping to re-establish the status of embroidery to fine art in Britain and the talk will focus on her designs and completed embroideries, demonstrating why she was one of the most significant artists of the Arts and Crafts movement.
This live, interactive talk is part of a programme of monthly events via Zoom organised by Emery Walker's House Trust. Entry is by donation. Please prebook via Emerywalker.org.uk
Emery Walker's House