The Significance of the Kelmscott Press: the Future as Now

The Kelmscott Press (1890 – 1897) was Morris’s last creative endeavour. It was an exercise in the best quality of book design and manufacture irrespective of cost. The creative craft capacity of those contributing was maximised in an age of cheap mass poorly produced consumer goods and books. The Kelmscott Press books featured type design and border design by Morris himself and wood engraved illustrations designed by his artist friends such as Edward Burne-Jones. The books were printed on Albion iron hand presses in Hammersmith in workshops very close to Kelmscott House and were in limited editions of a few hundred. Many of the books had Medievalist themes and Morris hoped to revive the craft aesthetic of Medieval book production in a new form.

Through his Kelmscott Press project Morris was living as if the vision in his utopian political fiction News from Nowhere had been achieved. The production values and techniques of Morris’s proposed post-revolutionary society were realised in the Kelmscott Press. Morris envisaged an economy no longer subject to market conditions but principles of excellence and beauty and precision: a libertarian socialist Arts and Crafts Society in which Art and labour had a new relationship more akin to that identified in John Ruskin’s Nature of Gothic.

The Kelmscott Press books were unaffordable to most, but Morris wanted to produce what was possible not what was profitable/accessible/affordable/marketable. If the revolution happened which Morris wanted the Kelmscott Press production values would be the norm across a whole range of economic activity. Therefore Morris didn’t wait for the revolution but lived through his Kelmscott Press project as if the revolution had already happened. He lived and produced within his vision of the future.

From Morris’s Kelmscott Press experience we can learn the principle of inhabiting our vision of the future in our own way in this time. It is not necessary to wait for our vision of the future to materialise. We can ‘live in our future now’ or perhaps ‘bring our own future into the present’.

By Hugh Hobbs

 

 

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