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book review: Textiles of the Arts & Crafts Movement

BookiconLinda Parry, Textiles of the Arts & Crafts Movement, new edition, Thames and Hudson, 2005.

Parry, a Deputy Keeper at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, completed the original version of this book to commemorate the centenary of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, the organization that from its founding in1888 to 1916 provided the primary British venue for showcasing the range of the new decorative art - furniture, rugs, metalwork, textiles - that so influenced the fashion, furnishings and architecture of the era. The Society not only gave us the term - "arts and crafts" - that has come to encapsulate the movement, it provided respectability to an alternative art and design form built upon craft, modest studio and workshop production, and sympathetic retailers, an art form that enjoyed broad public success then, and now, in  revival for the past 30 years.

Parry's focus on textiles shown in the Exhibition Society shows limits her survey of course, not only by geography (the exhibitors were all British), but by period. While she provides an introductory chapter on arts and crafts principles and reviews the work of early practitioners including William Morris, the major contribution of the book, and what gives it its uniqueness, is the detailed and comprehensive description of the exhibited textiles in terms of design, materials, production, technology, and sales. Parry’s thesis, so far as there is one, is that the exhibitions, by giving extensive space and attention to textiles, provided a new legitimacy for the medium, moving it, along with the other decorative arts, toward greater parity with painting and sculpture.

This book, one of a recent spate of specialized volumes on textiles, is  probably more for the specialist than the general interested reader. While the text is on the clunky side, the book’s extensive color illustrations of rugs, wallpapers, woven and printed fabrics, lace, and clothing are wonderful. Parry also provides a useful directory of textile designers, craftsmen, manufacturers and retailers.