100 years on, Morris’s Kelmscott still inspires artists and visitors
William Morris, artist, writer, manufacturer and utopian socialist, died in 1896. But his overcoat is still hanging behind a door in the entrance hall at Kelmscott Manor. For many years Morris rented the beautiful old house, over the Thames from Buscot, as a retreat for himself, his wife Janey and their daughters Jenny and May. They loved to escape to Kelmscott from their busy life in London. The well-worn coat was one of the many evocative objects that caught Sasha Ward’s eye when she arrived at Kelmscott in May 2014 as the first Artist in Residence. “The house is full of personal belongings, and fabrics embroidered by Janey and May” says Sasha. “And there are places you recognise from Morris’s letters. It can be quite spooky sometimes”.
The opportunity to spend the summer as Artist in Residence at Kelmscott attracted a great deal of interest and the trustees chose stained glass artist Sasha from 150 applicants, all artists of standing. “I was thrilled to be picked” says Sasha. “Of course I share William Morris’s obsession with stained glass. But also I loved the idea of being part of the life of Kelmscott. It’s an incredibly busy place with up to 500 visitors a day.”
Sasha fell in love with stained glass as a teenager, when three friends visiting Chartres Cathedral sent her postcards of the windows. She lives in Marlborough, where she has a studio and the all-important kiln in which she can fire sheets of glass up to a metre wide and two metres long.
Sasha has completed over 70 projects and commissions in the UK and abroad, including a window for the Chaplaincy at Swindon’s Great Western Hospital. She likes to work on a grand scale and her biggest commission to date has been a dramatic stairwell window for the Premier Inn in Liverpool, which comprises eighty square metres of glass. “But I’d love to work on an even bigger scale” says Sasha. “Maybe a project for a cathedral . . . ”
At Kelmscott, Sasha set up a workshop in the Brewhouse. There she worked on a series of small stained glass panels, explaining the process to the visitors and encouraging them to take part. One project was inspired by a window pane on which May Morris and her friends had scratched their names. Sasha invited people to sign their names on scraps of glass with a diamond-tipped pen, and assembled the pieces – bearing 103 signatures - into a window which has now been installed at Kelmscott. Visiting children were given pencils and paper and encouraged to draw things that appealed to them, and there were workshops for adults and children. A tiny “box cottage” belonging to May Morris is on show at Kelmscott; it was discovered in one of the attics. Now the visitors made “stained glass” windows and block-printed wallpaper, and used them to turn cardboard play-houses into richly patterned Arts and Crafts residences. Polystyrene tiles made excellent wallpaper blocks!
For the second year running, Kelmscott Manor has been shortlisted for the title of “Most Inspiring Heritage Attraction”. The house is currently closed for the winter but will be open to the public on Wednesdays and Saturdays from the beginning of April.
Here is a copy of the poster, much higher resolution ones are available: