Case one: William Morris and the Kelmscott Press

The Arts and Crafts Movement began in England in the late 19th century, as artists and social reformers began to react against industrialization and the resulting poor quality craftsmanship that became common in the Victorian Era. Influential writers such as John Ruskin bemoaned the contemporary craftsman’s role as a mere cog in the machine of industry and encouraged the return to handcraftsmanship, for both design and social reform. These ideas impacted all areas of design, from architecture and furniture to textiles and stained glass. A number of important Arts and Crafts figures also founded private presses that produced high quality publications, often experimenting with typography and illumination.

William Morris (1834-1896), often referred to as ‘the father of the Arts and Crafts Movement’ for his contributions in nearly every category of design as well as numerous writings on social and design reform, turned to printing in the last decade of his life. He founded the Kelmscott Press in 1890 at Hammersmith, London, designing typefaces and recalling his own early love of medieval manuscript illumination in intricate page borders and incipit letters. The Kelmscott Chaucer, the focus of this exhibition, was the culminating project of Morris’s printing career. The product of extended experimentation with typography and printed illustration, it was the final and most complete embodiment of the reverent craftsmanship displayed so clearly in every Kelmscott Press edition.