Events & Exhibits - Fall 1993

William Morris And The Kelmscott Press Exhibition

The Friends of the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Memorial Library, the Department of Art and Music, and the University Art Gallery will host an exhibition on William Morris and the Kelmscott Press from Oct. 23 to Dec. 9. 1991. The exhibition will include books from the Kelmscott Press and other private presses as well as letters, announcements, photographs and various ephemera pertaining to the 19th-century decorative artist, writer, poet and printer, William Morris. Over 100 items will be on display in the Art Gallery and the Weinberg Library. Most items will be from the private collection of John J. Walsdorf, a noted collector of William Morris, but the exhibit will also include several items from the rare book collections of Hofstra University, Bucknell University, Lehigh University, Franklin & Marshall College, Lafayette College, and the Fales Collection of New York University. The exhibit will provide an excellent opportunity to view well-designed books made at private presses from 1886 to 1994. It will open Oct. 23 at 1 p.m. in the Weinberg Library with a reception in the Scranton Heritage Room. A presentation on Morris by Mr. Walsdorf will follow at 2 p.m. in the Eagen Auditorium.
William Morris began the Kelmscott William Morris, 1834-1896Press in 1891. He was 57 years old and had already distinguished himself as a successful decorative artist of wall papers, carpets, tapestries, fabrics, stained-glass and furniture. Morris once remarked, "It. was only natural that I, a decorator by profession, should attempt to ornament my books suitably; I have always tried to keep in mind the necessity for making my decoration a part of the page of type" (J. Dunlap, On the Heritage of William Morris, p. 12). On display will he several books and other items printed at the Kelmscott Press. Like his tapestries and fabrics, the books illustrate how Morris was influenced by the Middle Ages. The pages have decorative borders, ornate type and rich illustrations. The titles Morris selected to print often reflected this interest in Medievalism and included such works as The Defence of Guenevere and The Works of-Geoffrey Chaucer. Criticized that their heavy ornateness made them difficult to read, Morris believed that: The trouble is they [the critics] merely look at a page here and there, and then, because they aren't used to it, the poor, weak young saplings say it doesn't grow from the common stem. Damn the common stem, and all other Classical remains. Gothic was good enough for our ancestors, and to any one who will take the time to spend more than a minute or two upon it, it should be good enough for any of us" (L. E. Grey, William Morris, p. 328). During the six weeks of the exhibit, visitors will have the opportunity to rake more than a minute" to view Morris's works from the Kelmscott Press and works from other private presses as well.
Over 50 private presses will be represented in the William Morris exhibition. As different as these presses may be, their commonality is the influence William Morris had on their press releases. And, when one considers that the Kelmscott Press was operated by William Morris for only five years, this impact is amazing. Whether it is the reprints of Morris's writings or books written about Morris, the private presses imitated Morris's philosophy "to produce books which it would be a pleasure to look upon as pieces of printing and arrangements of type" (W Morris, A Note by William Morris on His Aims in Founding the Kelmscott Press, p. 1). Private presses often limit their editions from as few as two to as many as several hundred. Therefore, it is fortunate to view this representation of private presses and for John J. Walsdorf to make this possible.
John J. Walsdorf, vice president for domestic sales at Blackwell North America, has been collecting books pertaining to William Morris for over 25 years. His collection has been on exhibition at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and George Washington University, Washington, D.C. He is the author of William Morris in Private Press and Limited Editions: A Descriptive Bibliography of Books by and about William Morris (1983) and he edited Men of Printing (1976) and Printers on Morris (1981). The Library and the Department of Art and Music appreciate not only Mr. Walsdorf's generosity in sharing his collection but also in sharing his views on the collection and his experience as a collector when he speaks Oct. 23 at 2 p.m. in Eagen Auditorium.
As the kickoff to the new Friends of the Library organization, we hope the William Morris exhibit will bring together lovers of books. William Morris was described as a "bibliophile who placed a well-made book second only to a well-built house among the necessities for comely human life. His passion for beautiful books showed itself in the triple form of bookwriting, book making and hook collecting" (A. C. Brinson, Essay in Honor of the William Morris Centenary, p. 4). This passion has been shared by another book collector, John J. Walsdorf, whose generosity makes this exhibition possible. It is hoped that through this exhibit their appreciation and passion will be shared by others.
Joe Fennewald
Pride, Passion, Promise: Experience Our Jesuit Tradition