Geoff Groberg

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William Morris, craftsman – socialist

William Morris. Acanthus, 1874.

I just finished reading William Morris, craftsman – socialist. It’s a short book about the life of William Morris. I never knew who William Morris was before picking up this book almost by accident as I was strolling thru a folksy section of the library where I work.

The most interesting thing in this book for me was Morris’s ideas about work. He felt that all men should have the freedom to pursue meaningful work, work they could take pride in, work that made them feel like artists instead of assembly line workers. These are thoughts and ideas that resonate in today’s world. But he lived during the late 19th century. He despised the industrial revolution and felt that men’s lives, and the products they produced, were being degraded.

Morris was an artist himself. He loved medieval stuff, book-binding, writing, making tapestries (!), and anything hand-made and crafty. I’d like to invite him over for dinner.

There were a lot of thoughts that rang true in the book. I especially enjoyed quotations from Morris himself. Here’s a nice gem from one of Morris’s own novels, A Dream of John Ball:

“…fellowship is heaven, and lack of fellowship is hell: fellowship is life, and lack of fellowship is death….”

As I read the book and his thoughts about work, freedom, equality, and art, I couldn’t help but think about my last 7 years of work. In December, I started a full-time regular job at the BYU library. For the previous 7 years I was totally self employed doing all kinds of random things. Some of them were artsy, some just helped pay the bills. There was freedom and solitude, but also lots of stress; definitely a mixed bag. I wonder how Morris would have seen this period of time in my life.

The Craftsman

William Morris

from the book “William Morris: Craftsman–Socialist” by Holbrook Jackson:

“….Instead of the artist, as we now understand him, living a pampered or neglected life according to the measure of success he has obtained in making things which are complete in themselves and bearing only the slightest relationship to the activities of life, we shall have the craftsman. He will make things for use, which shall be so beautiful that any ornaments apart from them will be unnecessary. But the craftsman will not be an exclusive person like the artist; he will be the common worker, no longer the slave of a machine, but taking a joy in the work of his hands into which he weaves his vision of the world, and by which he expresses and interprets the wonder and mystery of life.”

After reading this, I can see why William Morris loved folk music.