Business in the Creative Life of William Morris

Authored by: Charles Harvey , Jon Press , Mairi Maclean

The Routledge Companion to William Morris

Print publication date:  October  2020
Online publication date:  October  2020

Print ISBN: 9780415347433
eBook ISBN: 9781315229416
Adobe ISBN:


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Business is perhaps the least studied and, for many, least interesting facet of the multi-faceted career of William Morris. Wikipedia (2018) is typical in describing him as “an English textile designer, poet, novelist, translator and socialist activist”, omitting from this litany one of the most salient facts of his life: that for 35 years he was an entrepreneur, the “managing director” of a socially prominent and commercially successful business venture. It is wrong to conceive the business dimension of Morris’s career simply as a means of earning a living. His firm was a pioneering vehicle for creative expression in the decorative arts, and its products and practices continue to inspire designers, craft workers, consumers and art lovers across the world (Fiell and Fiell 2017; Todd 2012). In this chapter, we suggest that business, contrary to the impression conveyed in much of the literature, was fundamental to the creative life of William Morris. It was through business that Morris, “an entrepreneur of unusual creativity”, imparted his most important messages with respect to the decorative arts, simultaneously shaping tastes and professional practice (Ormiston and Wells 2010, 8).

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