Throughout the 1890s and 1900s, May Morris was heavily involved in the Arts and Crafts Movement, exhibiting and teaching widely. In a scene dominated by men, May noticed that women artists could feel isolated and unsupported. Barred from joining the male only Art Workers Guild, they lacked a forum for social and professional networking.
In a direct response to this continued exclusion, May founded the Women's Guild of Arts in 1907. Members included some of the most notable figures in the Arts and Crafts Movement: painter Evelyn De Morgan, jeweller Georgie Gaskin, bookbinder Katherine Adams and sculptor Mabel White. The Guild’s first president was Mary Seton Watts, wife of the painter G. F. Watts.
According to May, the Guild’s mission was to “keep to the highest level the arts by which and for which we live, to keep ever fresh and vital the enthusiasm, the belief – all the things which are the impetus of human endeavour”.
May clearly relished the opportunity to debate the latest artistic trends with her fellow members. “It is a pleasure to meet women who know their work and are not playing at art,” she said of a Guild meeting in 1910.
It was not until the 1960s that women were finally admitted to the Art Workers Guild. The wood engraver Joan Hassall became the first female Master in 1972.
If we're successful in raising our target of £15,000, May's role in supporting women artists will be a central theme of the exhibition. Please help us tell May's story by donating to the appeal.