Spanning from wall to wall of the William Morris Gallery's new exhibition space, Grayson Perry's Walthamstow Tapestry is a magnificent sight: bold, rich and relevant.
Grayson Perry's Walthamstow Tapestry
© Mark Crick
It’s the perfect match for a gallery whose recent renovations foreground Morris’s passion for textiles, significance in his local community, and influence on artists of future generations.
In every room, the gallery teases out less well-known threads in Morris’s story with an easy curatorial touch, befitting the life of a man who believed the arts should be for everyone. His contemporaries knew him better as a writer than an artist, and the gallery explores his work with books at length, from the utopian novel News from Nowhere to his Kelmscott Press edition of the Works of Geoffrey Chaucer – completed a few weeks before Morris’s death, and still considered one of the masterpieces of publishing.
The new displays range in scale from a full-room reproduction of one of Morris’s workshops to a single sheet of paper, on which Morris explains his rejection of the clergy to pursue a life dedicated to art.
The gallery's new tea room extension
© Mark Crick
His political activism is a recurring theme – one object is displayed against a background listing the speeches he made advocating socialism, while a ‘fighting for a cause’ board invites visitors to submit their campaigns alongside Morris’s own, ‘art for all’ and ‘abolish capitalism’.
Inspired by Georgian orangeries, the new tea room offers not only a space for visitors to rest their legs but also a panoramic view of Lloyd Park, which has been replanted using 18th-century designs. Morris & Co patterns abound throughout the building, from the tea room's frosted glass ceiling to the wallpaper in the refurbished toilets.
Glorious Morris & Co stained glass and Burne-Jones tiles bought with help from the Art Fund are on prominent display, while the Brangwyn gift – made through the Art Fund in 1960 – is housed in a new space dedicated to Morris's protege.
Only 10% of the gallery's collection is on permanent show, the rest loaned to museums or kept in the newly built object store. But what is displayed is testament to William Morris as a uniquely Victorian polymath: entrepreneur, activist, writer, and artist.