Despite hipsterfication spreading like wildfire up Kingsland Road and Dalston et al becoming sought-after places to live in and hang out, to my mind poor old Walthamstow still appears mired in an eternally dreary Sunday late afternoon sometime in the early 1970’s. East 17 has never been where it’s at. Till now. Hopefully the newly refurbished William Morris Gallery will change that. £5 million has been spent on completely refurbishing and restoring the Grade II listed main building, showing off the architecture of the building and ensuring the stunning collection of Morris-bilia is now displayed harmoniously.
Arguably Walthamstow’s most famous cultural export, Morris was a designer, craftsman, writer and political thinker. He was born in Walthamstow and lived in Water House – now the William Morris Gallery – from 1848 to 1856 and his work has since inspired generations of artists, designers, writers and political thinkers.
The complete refurbishment reveals many of the original Georgian features for the first time. This transformation means an increased exhibition space with three new galleries and the chance for previously unseen works to be displayed, a library, research and education centre and a new Georgian orangery-inspired extension housing a new tearoom and balcony overlooking the gardens.
Several artefacts are on display for the first time and arranged across six major themes exploring different aspects of Morris’ life, focusing on telling the story of William Morris.
The collection housed at the William Morris Gallery is the only one in the world to represent all aspects of Morris’s work and the transformation of the building provides a unique opportunity for the visitor to become immersed in the life and works of this creative genius. Furthermore, a continuously changing display of the work of other artists and craftspeople inspired by William Morris will be running concurrently. Such as the work of Arthur Heygate Mackmurdo, whose stunning fretwork chair can be seen in the image above.
Meanwhile another Walthamstow boy (well, his studio is nearby anyway), Grayson Perry, is exhibiting one of his works, The Walthamstow Tapestry, which charts the progress of man from birth to death via the shops, the tapestry peppered with leading brands encountered along the way. Stripped of their logos and thus much of their identity, the names run alongside – often incongruous – depictions of people going about their everyday lives: walking the dog, nursing children, skateboarding, hoovering, and, of course, shopping. Perry is a great chronicler of contemporary life, in whose work sentiment and nostalgia sit subversively alongside fear and anger. In The Walthamstow Tapestry many of the world’s leading names, from luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton and Tiffany to high street giants such as Marks and Spencer and IKEA, come under Perry’s excoriating gaze in this cautionary and prophetic tale of modern day life. It is surely no coincidence the ‘ship of fools’ depicted is surrounded by names of banks… Inspired by antique batik fabrics from Malaysia as well as eastern European folk art this vast work provides a colourful, rich and complex visual journey across our contemporary landscape.
William Morris Gallery
London E17 4PP
Words by Anna Bang
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