Happy Birthday, May Morris!

CRANBROOK SIGHTINGS: INSIDE THE VAULT
May Morris
Bed-Hangings (Two Curtains)
1916, or earlier
Embroidered wool on linen
Each panel: 76 ¾ x 27 inches
Gift of George Gough Booth and Ellen Scripps Booth

May Morris, Bed Hangings, c. 1916. Photo courtesy Cranbrook Art Museum.

On the 152nd anniversary of her birth (editor’s note: plus one day, because this editor is on a research trip and didn’t have time to get to the blog yesterday!), all of us at Cranbrook Art Museum are excited to wish artist and designer May Morris a very happy birthday! Born March 25, 1862 in Bexley Heath, England, May Morris grew up in an artistic community fueled by the beliefs of her father William Morris, a founder of the British Arts and Crafts Movement. Intellectually committed to her father’s movement, she learned needlecraft at the feet of her mother Jane, a Pre-Raphaelite model and muse for Morris and others.

As an adult May Morris advocated both for her father’s artistic movement and for women’s involvement in art through needlework. She traveled the United States for five months between 1909 and 1910, lecturing on the Arts and Crafts movement and women’s role in the arts. Exposed to the women’s rights movement growing in the United States in this period, Morris became a champion for trade unions and women’s arts guilds—a move that earned her the dislike of many Arts and Crafts leaders, including Gustav Stickley.

It was during this lecture tour that George Gough Booth first encountered Morris’s work. Ten years later Booth purchased these bed-hangings—designed by Morris and executed by Morris and fellow needleworker and teacher Mary Newill—from a 1920 Detroit Society of Arts Crafts exhibition featuring Morris’s work and that of other British Arts and Crafts artists. Designed in 1916, the bed-hangings were first exhibited at the Eleventh Arts and Crafts Exhibition in London in the same year and were published in The Studio: Year-Book of Decorative Art in 1917. George and Ellen Booth loved the bed-hangings, which they hung in Cranbrook House until 1955.

Shoshana Resnikoff
2012-2014 Collections Fellow
Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

References:

Anthea Callen, Women Artists of the Arts and Crafts Movement, 1870-1914 (Pantheon Books: New York) 1979.

Ellen Dodington, “May Morris, Bed-Hangings (Two Curtains),” Cranbrook Art Museum: 100 Treasures (Cranbrook Art Museum: Bloomfield Hills, MI) 2004.

Natasha Thoreson, “The Reluctant Reformer: May Morris’ United States Lecture Tour of 1909-1910,” Textiles and Politics: Textile Society of America 13th Biennial Symposium Proceedings (University of Nebraska, Lincoln: Lincoln, NE) 2012.

Happy Birthday Albert Herter!

CRANBROOK SIGHTINGS: CRANBROOK HOUSE
Albert Herter
The Great Crusade
1920
Cotton, wool, and silk tapestry
Manufactured by the Herter Looms, Inc., New York, New York
156 x 120 inches
Gift of George Gough Booth and Ellen Scripps Booth

A day late but with no less affection, we here at the Cranbrook Art Museum wish a very happy birthday to Albert Herter, born on March 2, 1871. The son of Christian Herter, one half of New York’s famed Herter Brothers design and decorating firm, Albert went on to become a successful artist and decorator in his own right. Over his lengthy career he painted portraits of the Bouviers, executed many private and civic murals in the United States and Europe, opened and decorated an exclusive Montecito hotel for America’s elite, and in 1908 founded the Herter Looms weaving company.

Although Herter Looms manufactured a variety of textiles for home furnishings, it is perhaps best known for its output of revivalist tapestries, often designed by Albert. Below is an essay about Herter’s The Great Crusade tapestry, written by former Cranbrook Academy of Art director Gerhardt Knodel for the 2004 publication Cranbrook Art Museum: 100 Treasures. For even more about the tapestry’s design and execution, check out Robbie Terman’s post on our sister blog, Cranbrook Kitchen Sink.

Albert Herter, The Great Crusade, 1920

[Cranbrook founder] George Booth was inspired to mark the end of the World War I in 1918 with a commemorative tapestry designed in the European tradition. His pen and ink sketch was submitted to renowned designer Albert Herter in New York City, who developed Booth’s concept and oversaw the work’s production by the Herter Looms in 1920. The resulting tapestry is beautiful, unique, and dense with political symbolism.

Since the Middle Ages, tapestries functioned as a means to document and glorify the “progress” of civilization. The Great Crusade presents America, whose involvement in the battlefields brought the war to an end, as the savior of European culture. The tapestry depicts the great political and religious leaders of Europe’s cultural past standing on the ground (Henry VIII, Francis I, Joan of Arc, among others) welcoming the triumphant victor, General Pershing on horseback, leading his troops. A Renaissance-style angel of victory is suspended in the sky above the crowd, accompanied by American bi-planes, the first ever used in warfare. The tapestry is a “red-carpet” homage to the victors.

-Gerhardt Knodel
Essay from Cranbrook Art Museum: 100 Treasures, ed. Dora Apel (Bloomfield Hills, MI: Cranbrook Art Museum, 2004), 64.