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February 1, 2009
Originally published in Smaller is Smarter
Manifesto: William Morris, “The Lesser Arts of Life” (1877)
architectural movements the arts and crafts movement

It is just over a hundred years, now, since the Arts and Crafts movement launched the program of modern architecture and design; some see it as the last gasp of the 19th century—with its mistrust of the machine and flights of medieval fancy—but it was really the first breath of the 20th.

The moving force behind the Arts and Crafts period was that irrepressible walking manifesto, William Morris, the Victorian gentleman who had come to despair over the separation of beautiful but useless art objects and useful but ugly factory products. How 
to reconcile them? How to bring honest, 
well-made products into the lives and homes of common people? “I do not want art for a few,” he thundered in his riveting manifesto of 1877, “any more than education for a 
few, or freedom for a few!”

Although the Arts and Crafts movement may call to mind the solid oak furniture of the Stickleys, the intricate wallpaper designs of Morris, or the lovingly illuminated books from the Kelmscott Press, it was always meant to be more than a style. It was a call for a different kind of life, a simpler, more honest one.

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