Jack Walsdorf provides IWU with William Morris Collection

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Anna Lowenthal

 

From Wednesday, Oct. 22 to Friday, Oct. 24, Illinois Wesleyan University hosted William Morris scholars Florence Boos and Jack Walsdorf for several on-campus events, including the opening of four displays in Ames library, provided by Walsdorf, president of the William Morris Society in the U.S.

William Morris was a Victorian-era designer, writer and activist who founded the Arts and Crafts Movement as well as the Kelmscott Press. He believed in the beauty and craftsmanship of the decorated arts, and placed value and emphasis on the making of high-quality goods at the time of the Industrial Revolution.

Walsdorf’s collection, which has grown to over 9,000 books, was acquired from single buys from dealers in both the United States and the United Kingdom.

“I have been building my collection for over a 50-year period,” said Walsdorf. “One might say I built my library one book at a time.”

University Librarian Karen Schmidt and University Archivist and Special Collections Librarian Meg Miner proposed the display, which was brought to campus and funded by the Re-centering the Humanities Project, directed by Dr. Dan Terkla.

“The display shows the many dimensions and materials that Morris used—printing with Kelmscott press, fabric, wallpaper, tiles and also the huge influence he has on design work today,” said Schmidt.

Boos and Walsdorf made visits to multiple classrooms, and even offered students a hands-on experience with some of Walsdorf’s collection.

“The guest speakers from the William Morris Society gave an interesting introduction to the aesthetics of Morris’s art and design work,” said junior Karl Winter. “But the highlight of the talk was being allowed to study and feel the actual pages of Morris’s manuscripts that were printed at the Kelmscott Press.”

Though Morris’s work may be over a hundred years old, the influences of his designs are still seen in today’s books, textiles, wallpapers and other furnishings.

“Just look at the upholstery patterns and frieze borders in the Ames Library rotunda, to say nothing of the chairs, rocking or otherwise: all indebted to Morris’s Arts and Crafts aesthetic,” said Terkla.

“To my knowledge, Illinois Wesleyan has never had the benefit of a treasure trove like Jack Walsdorf loaned us,” he added.

Both Florence Boos and Jack Walsdorf have published works about William Morris. Fine press editions of both Boos’s The Artist and the Capitalist as well as Walsdorf’s On Collecting William Morris: A Memoir are available for students to view in Special Collections on the fourth floor of Ames Library. For more information, contact Meg Miner at [email protected]

“It’s a privilege to have Morris’s items on Wesleyan’s campus,” said Miner.