Fabrics, wallpapers, tapestries at BMA

Near Eastern, Asian art influenced Morris' work

Arts: museums, literature

April 17, 2003|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,SUN ART CRITIC

William Morris, a leader of the 19th-century arts & crafts movement in England, was a polymath who created designs for textiles, wrote poetry and published magnificently crafted, illustrated books. During his lifetime, he was something of a contradiction: a well-born aristocrat who championed socialism, a Renaissance man of the industrial era and an unapologetic romantic who drew much of his inspiration from the Gothic art of the Middle Ages.

Now Morris' wide-ranging interests are highlighted in a small but delightful show of his designs for fabrics, wallpaper and tapestries at the Baltimore Museum of Art. The show includes many beautiful examples of Morris' elegant woven woolens, block-printed cotton fabrics and floral designs inspired by Near Eastern and Asian art.

As an interior designer, Morris aimed to create total environments that would surround a home's inhabitants with beauty. But he disdained the shoddy, mass-produced household furnishings produced by machines. Instead, he advocated an aesthetic of handcrafted simplicity that harked back to the pre-industrial past. He believed that art should be "made by the people, and for the people, as a happiness to the maker and the user."

Morris thought that aesthetic reforms could lay the basis for the reform of modern society as a whole. His art was ultimately part of a Utopian vision in which individuals would be free to develop their talents and abilities to the fullest. Though his movement fell far short of that ideal, he left a legacy of original decorative designs that have since become classics.

An exhibit called "Textiles" by William Morris runs through Sept. 14 at the BMA. The museum is at 10 Art Museum Drive. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays. Admission is $7 for adults, $5 students and seniors. Call 410-396-7100.

For more art events, see page 47.

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