Walthamstow’s William Morris Gallery has been transformed to create a new world-class destination and reopens to the public today, 2 August 2012.
The Gallery promises visitors with a personal insight into one of the foremost creative artists and original thinkers of the nineteenth century.
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.
Waltham Forest Council has driven the Gallery’s £5m redevelopment, and its transformation represents the Council’s commitment to arts and culture. The refurbishment also forms a key part of the Council’s wider plans to regenerate the borough and improve the area’s leisure offer for local people and visitors from further afield alike.
The transformation delivers increased and fully refurbished exhibition space with three new galleries (including a new temporary exhibition space, currently displaying Turner Prize winner Grayson Perry’s ‘The Walthamstow Tapestry’), a library, education centre and a new tearoom overlooking the gardens. Almost 600 objects will now be on display across 12 galleries. Several artefacts are on display for the first time and arranged across six major themes exploring different aspects of Morris’ life.
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.
Chris Robbins, Leader of Waltham Forest Council, said: “William Morris once said ‘I do not want art for a few any more than education for a few, or freedom for a few’ and this sentiment really resonates with me on a personal level. Indeed, it’s part of the reason we set out to display more art to more people than ever before and it's also why entry to the Gallery remains free.
"This is a new beginning for the William Morris Gallery. The Council has lead the gallery’s redevelopment and transformed it into a place you’ll want to visit again and again whether you’re a design expert or simply want somewhere to take the children on a Sunday afternoon.
“The building is stunning, the surrounding parklands are beautiful and our collection features items you won’t find anywhere else in the world. As someone who’s lived in east London my whole life I’d naturally suggest you don’t need one specific reason to come and visit our neck of the woods, but if you're convinced you need one then this has to be it.”
Grayson Perry, who will be the first artist to exhibit in the new temporary exhibition gallery with his Walthamstow Tapestry said: “I admire Morris for the range and depth of activity he was able to explore and the lasting influence he has had. I love ornate pattern and this is where Morris excels, his work has a joyous sense of design that provides visual delight and is immediately accessible to everyone. I always hope to achieve similar aims through my work which means I am extremely delighted that my Walthamstow Tapestry is the first temporary exhibition in the transformed William Morris Gallery.
“Morris typifies what makes places like Walthamstow special. A place that most people think is just an ordinary part of London is actually rich with interesting people, histories and social and political activity. My studio is in Walthamstow and that is where I designed the Walthamstow Tapestry. The most famous textile artwork for most Britons is the Bayeux Tapestry so I wanted to echo that. But I wanted the title to reflect it is about all our lives and Walthamstow exemplifies the idea that behind the facade of the average is there so much more.”
Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, designer and gallery patron said: “Never lose sleep over what quintessential British style is because the answer is William Morris. Like some wonderful, noisy, hand wrought machine, he devoured the raw ingredients of design history and manufactured a look that was so easy to love, so easy to live with we’ve never been able to surpass it. Even arch modernists have a soft spot for his kindly, blokey, romantically British aesthetic. And I think the real secret of his universal timeless appeal is the energetically engaging lack of any whiff of snobbery. The transformed William Morris Gallery is the place to immerse yourself in Morris’ mind and vision – I thoroughly recommend a visit”
Wesley Kerr, HLF London Committee Chairman, said: “William Morris famously said ‘Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.’ The Heritage Lottery Fund is delighted that the representation of Walthamstow’s wonderful William Morris Gallery follows that advice; our grant of £1.6m has made the childhood home and landscape which inspired the 19th century’s most influential designer to show 50 per cent more exquisite objects in a fabulous setting.
“Morris wanted ordinary people to enjoy quality Arts and Crafts artefacts - from furniture to stained glass, tapestries to pottery - and the Gallery presents hundreds from its world class collection, inside the now fully accessible and expanded 18th-century mansion. There’s a new cafe, fresh exhibition spaces and an exciting programme of activities which will connect Morris’s cross-cultural designs with all communities.
“The £3.5m which HLF and the Big Lottery Fund have jointly awarded to Lloyd Park means that Waltham Forest has been able to undertake a once in a generation restoration of Gallery, ornamental gardens and Park - with its rare medieval moat - giving a huge boost for visitors and residents.”
William Morris, born in Walthamstow in 1834, was a founder of the Arts and Crafts movement, supporter of the Pre-Raphaelites, a socialist pioneer, designer, craftsman and visionary, whose work still influences these fields today.
The redevelopment works in the Gallery have been carried out by Pringle Richards Sharratt Architects and made possible by funding from Waltham Forest Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) as well as many notable trusts, foundations, sponsors and The Friends of The William Morris Gallery. The restoration of Lloyd Park has been made possible through funding from Waltham Forest Council, HLF and the Big Lottery Fund.
The William Morris Gallery (Forest Road, Walthamstow E17 4PP) is open from 10am-5pm, Wednesday – Sunday and is open for pre-booked group visits on Tuesdays.
The Gallery is closed on Mondays. Entry is free.