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Westerwald Stoneware at Kelmscott Manor: Morris, pottery and the politics of production

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JournalThe Antiquaries Journal
DateSubmitted - 10 Sep 2018
DateAccepted/In press - 8 May 2019
DateE-pub ahead of print (current) - 30 Sep 2019
Volume99
Number of pages35
Pages (from-to)1-35
Early online date30/09/19
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Kelmscott Manor, the country home of William Morris, houses a remarkable collection of ceramics bearing a singular relationship to one of the most influential figures in Victorian cultural history. This study of Kelmscott’s collection of German stoneware reveals new interpretations of its production history and fascinating insights into its significance for the cultural context of Morris’s work. Based on a complete catalogue, the paper examines the ensemble of c30 pieces of 18th–19th-century Westerwald stoneware, or grès de Flandres , as it was known to Morris and his contemporaries. The Kelmscott group is the largest collection of this material known from an English historic house and has a composite and well-documented provenance. Supplementary material provided as an online appendix contains a fully illustrated, descriptive catalogue.Westerwald pottery of the 17th century and earlier has been extensively studied, but its ceramics of the late 18th–19th centuries have received little attention. Most accounts stress the simplification of vessel forms and ‘degeneration’ of decorative designs during this period, leading towards mass production c1900. This paper re-assesses later Westerwald output, drawing attention to a vernacular pottery tradition of significant interest in its own right. This paper suggests it was this continuing tradition of vernacular production and its naturalistic, decorative schemes that attracted the interest of Morris throughout his adult life, from the Red House experiment to the heyday of Morris & Co. Examining his writing on creativity, the minor arts and labour, the paper interprets grès de Flandres as an expression of Morris' idealisation of the relationship between labour and craft production.

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