Morris Here, There and Everywhere.

No it’s not our little moggy which has travelled to many places all the way from Greenwich, London to the Anatolian plateau I’m referring to in the title. It’s a human.

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There’s still one famous person’s house I haven’t mentioned we visited London last month. In many respects it’s a house belonging to one of the most remarkable and multi-faceted persons who ever lived. The descriptions of artist, designer, typographer, writer, poet, translator, revolutionary, visionary do not exhaust his activities. Furthermore, he is the one person who, more than ever, links up places where I was born, where I was educated, where I lived, where I worked, where I am now – indeed all those places and more: all those places dearest to me today.

Walthamstow, notorious for its part in the 2011 London riots when large parts of that city were in flames, does not immediately suggest a pilgrimage on the Victoria tube line to visit it. Its multi ethnic high street is lively but has unremarkable shops and modest architecture. Nobody there seemed to know the place we wanted to visit. Had we come to the wrong place?

Of course not. Finally, we were pointed in the right direction. At the entrance of a park stands a fine Georgian mansion where the man whose achievements we had come to hallow was born and brought up: William Morris, Britain’s greatest designer, whose work we have already touched on in a previous post when we visited an exhibition at London’s National Portrait Gallery with a section on him. (See https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2014/11/02/arty-crafty/)

There’s a fine web site at http://www.wmgallery.org.uk/ dedicated to William who was also (naturally) involved with the Pre-Raphaelites, one of whom snatched his wife off him (I’ll leave you to find out who if you didn’t already know).

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The museum is beautifully laid out and much better organised than when we last visited it  Here are some photographs of that museum thirty years ago (and us thirty years younger!)

But how does Morris link up with all the places I’ve lived and worked in? For a start there’s the Red House in Bexleyheath designed by Morris and Webb, where William spent the earlier part of his married life – a house called  “the beautifullest house in England” which is just round the corner from where I lived in the same borough. We were privileged to have known the couple who saved the Red House  from demolition when such architecture was unfashionable (what a philistine age I was brought up – the number of gorgeous buildings demolished in the Britain of the 50’s to the 70’s is too heart-breaking for me to go through.) We were also among the first visitors when the National Trust realised the uniqueness of that Red House and was able to add it to its list of very precious London properties. Again these photographs date from our distant past:

Red Lion square in Holborn, London, where William Morris had his design company headquarters, was also the square where I worked as a civil servant in the now defunct Wages Inspectorate. (Incidentally, it’s the same square where Sir John Harrington, Queen Elizabeth I’s “saucy godson” invented the first flush toilet in 1596. Hence the use of the word “John” to describe the same useful invention in the states. But I digress…)

The Kelmscott press on the Thames at Hammersmith, which Morris founded and from which he published some of the most stunningly set books in the English language and his masterpiece of printing, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, also has an intimate and living association with me and the great river itself – a river about which Conrad in that book which I am constantly re-reading “Heart of Darkness” writes “what greatness had not floated on the ebb of that river into the mystery of an unknown earth! . . . The dreams of men, the seed of commonwealths, the germs of empires.”

Even Bagni di Lucca enters into my associations as among William Morris’s best friends was Robert Browning whose holiday residence in Bagni di Lucca is being so lovingly restored (see my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2015/03/17/the-most-beautiful-house-in-bagni-di-lucca-villa/

William Morris is fortunate in having several houses in which he lived or is associated with. There’s Wightwick Manor, of course, near Birmingham and Standen in Sussex, both of which we have also visited and both which belong to the National Trust.

If you’re an American you can see this gorgeous stained glass window designed by William Morris in Trinity Church Boston (there’s also an archive of William Morris material in San Marino California,

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and if you’re an Australian and a fan of William Morris designs you must be the luckiest person in the world for Adelaide’s art gallery has the most comprehensive collection of Morris & Co. furnishings outside Britain).

If you’re in London and don’t want to go that far to see some William Morris you can always have a cup of tea at the V and A  – the dining area  was designed by William Morris and is now appropriately called “The William Morris” room.

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I don’t have to go too far either in Bagni di Lucca to see that Browning house with its associations with William Morris. After all, not only were they good friends but Morris can justly be counted as the main inspirer of the art nouveau (“stile liberty” as they call it here in Italy movement so gloriously seen in much of Italy, particularly around Lucca and Viareggio, and now revealed like an awakened sleeping beauty in BdL itself.

Few people read much of William Morris’s literary work today but two of his phrases have certainly echoed in the minds of many of us:

There’s this one which some of us try to aspire to:

“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

And there’s this one too, a little more difficult in this day and age to practice.”

“No work which cannot be done with pleasure in the doing is worth doing”.

To conclude, here are some photographs we took last February of a few of the items designed by Morris in the house that makes a visit to the end of the Victoria line at Walthamstow worth every minute of the journey:

International Women at Bagni di Lucca

Despite the “killer” wind we experienced last week (yesterday, at Magliano, the funeral of Sauro, who was killed by a flying boulder at the height of the storm,), despite the fact that for days  (and still today for some like us) communication lines were down and there was no electricity, despite the fact that urgent work needed to be done by thousands of families just to make sure that what remained of their roofs was safe from further falling tiles and possible infiltration, international women’s day was celebrated with absolute élan in Bagni di Lucca’s casinò yesterday afternoon.

The mayor (whose own historic house above the Farmacia Inglese was damaged) contributed a speech and so did other local notables and organizers in the beautiful Sala dei Gigli which fortunately, with the rest of the casinò  did not suffer significant damage.

The event was an absolute tour de force. There seemed to be an instinctive organization at work which got round the breakdown of electricity cables, phone lines, cell-phone grids and internet webs.

The result was splendid. The entrance to the exhibition had its visitors’ book filled and poems were offered by Mara (a well-produced book with three items translated beautifully by Grapevine editor Norma jean Bishop). Silvia and I also produced poems for the special day.

The main salon was filled with paintings and some sculpture selected with care and displaying an amazing variety of techniques and subjects. It would be difficult to point out particular ones as outstanding but certainly I was pleased at the inclusion of good artists who had never exhibited there before. For example, a former English student of mine who’d I always thought as an art restorer brought some exquisite pictures, and the world-renowned lithographer, Krascina, was represented by two examples of his unique technique.

In the next room there was a photographic section, again of the highest quality with wonderfully caught aspects of woman at different stages of their lives and in different parts of the world. I was particularly taken by the variety of faces and textures here.

Of immediate appeal to anyone interested in former ways of life in our valley was the room dedicated to old furniture, fabrics clothes and fittings. Beautiful Victorian-era beds, carved furniture, ingenious toiletry items and ornately decorated fabrics combined to make this room a veritable museum exhibit which could have quite easily become a part of the so-much wished for museum of past life and times in Bagni di Lucca.

The main salon was later fitted out efficiently with tables and chairs and turned into a dining hall where I was able to meet the organisers, the artists and the donors in a very convivial atmosphere.

Yet behind the enjoyable atmosphere there must have lurked a thought in the minds of all present that, although, legally, the equal rights of women with men is affirmed in the United Nations declaration of human right the actual situation on our planet Earth, (which significantly in Italian and so many other languages has a word feminine in gender as if to further emphasise the nurturing, caring, conserving role of women in societies throughout the world), is so very different.

On London’s tubes last month I noted adverts encouraging people to wear “the ring against child marriage”, doctors in that part of the world are sometimes prosecuted for carrying out FGMs, female infanticide is rife in countries such as India, women are still not allowed to drive a vehicle in some countries and have to be chaperoned everywhere, the denial to education for girls has been eloquently described by the young Nobel prize winner whose life was very nearly taken away from her, feminicide is still on the increase in many western countries, including Italy where, on average, two women are killed by their male partners every three day. The horrifying list could go on and on: public stoning to death of married women accused of forbidden loves in some countries, (so much so that that quip in one “Yes Minister” episode, where the difference between western and middle eastern women was defined by the minister for administrative affairs as being: “in the middle east they first commit adultery and then get stoned whereas in the west they first get stoned and then commit adultery”, no longer seems as funny as it did at the time).

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Yesterday was international woman’s day but, as one friend said to me, every day should be women’s day, every day should be a day where women’s rights to be themselves, free from male indoctrination, male threats, male justification, male raw power, male induced ideologies of subordination, (even to the point where the Fanny Mendelssohns and Clara Schumanns of a previous century were discouraged from composing after marriage so as not to dismay their more “famous” family members), blatant inequality, of opportunity and all those things that go with it, need to be remembered every minute of every day in every year.

Even that stupid ethno-centric anthropological-sociological argument in favour of relative so-called cultural values needs to be nipped in the bud. There is no species difference among all members of Homo sapiens sapiens, only intolerable differences of discrimination which apply to everyone with they be Bantus Bolivians or Belgians.

Women’s international day in Bagni di Lucca will last another week at the casinò   which is to be filled with many events, concerts, discussions and debates. Keep a look out on the posters and you’ll be sure to find something of appeal whether it be a harp and poetry recital of a cookery class.

 

Knots of Memory: Tapestry as Art Form

Tapestries have been used for hundreds of years to provide beautiful wall hangings and warm up the house too, especially in pre-central heating days. The greatest artists have contributed to the design of tapestries, the most famous example being that of Raphael whose original cartoons for the set of tapestries illustrating the lives of Saints Peter and Paul (and meant to be hung in the Sistine chapel where they are occasionally shown) are part of the Royal collection on display at the V & A museum in London.

Tapestries have generally been regarded as works of high artisanship but not of artistry. Raphael’s cartoons, for example, are labelled as artistry but the tapestries weaved from them in Belgium are regarded as artisanship.

The originality of Attiliana Argentieri Zanetti, whose exhibition continues at Bagni di Lucca’s Casinò daily from 6 to 8 pm, is that she has returned tapestries into the realm of artistry, indeed, sculpture and painting, using a variety of new and mixed techniques to produce original and consummate works.

Attiliana was born in Lucca in 1931. Though she has now lived in Northern Italy for many years she has never lost touch with Lucca. Here, for example are some of her delightful tapestries of the walled city’s churches and palaces:

Zanetti graduated in textile art at the Magisterium of the State Institute of Art in Venice and opened a textile workshop in Lucca’s palazzo Guinigi. She has also worked and taught in Lyon and at the ecole des beaux arts in Basel.

From 1971 to 1985 Zanetti directed the centre of Textile Design in Udine and at the same time carried out intensive research on textile production in Friuli. Her works are in museums and in public and private collections both in Italy and abroad. She has exhibited at the Venice biennale on numerous occasions. I am amazed that I’d never heard of her in the UK.

I had previously mentioned the Hub project of Bagni di Lucca (see my post at  http://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/12/29/a-new-hub/) and this exhibition forms part of that project . Organized by the indefatigable partnership of Carla Romani and Gemma Fazzi, the exhibition is divided into three sections dealing respectively with traditional techniques, current activities and ending with a tapestry art gallery.

Here are some of the examples in the third section with a particular emphasis on Venice , although there is also a familiar local bridge!

I was very glad that I was able to return to the exhibition, as on my first visit it was just about to close for the day, and appreciate the works on display more fully.

Carla and Gemma are very happy to answer your questions and there will space for seminars and discussions on the fascinating exhibits. So do visit it when you’re next in the “Greenwich Village” of Ponte a Seraglio.