Ruskin, Morris, and Beauty: The Importance of Arts and Crafts

27th September 2016

A Roycroft Campus Mini-Conference

The purpose of this mini-conference is to make the links between John Ruskin, William Morris, and the American Arts and Crafts Movement, begun at Roycroft in the 1890s by Elbert Hubbard, concrete.

In modern times, these critical ties have been largely overlooked, but the truth is that, without Hubbard's intense study of and admiration for these two 19th Century Victorian giants, the Arts and Crafts Movement which currently thrives in North America all but surely would never have happened. All of the presentations and discussions at this event are designed to make these connections clear. A description of the conference events is below.

1:00-2:00 PM:

"Ruskin, Morris, Hubbard and the Beautiful Printed Word": a presentation by Alan Nowicki (Roycroft Campus) and Dr. Joseph Weber (Roycroft Campus) intended to explain how Hubbard's dedication to the production of the world's greatest books in beautiful editions, a need first championed by Ruskin and put into practice by Morris, helped transform the publishing industry in the United States. The talk will be held in the new Roycroft Print Shop which, over the course of the last half decade, has been recreated by Dr. Weber and his staff to resemble, as closely as possible, Hubbard's original Print Shop at Roycroft. Newly printed editions of Roycroft Press books will be on display and for sale.


"For the Love of Beauty: John Ruskin and the Alps": In this talk, Professor Emeritus of Sociology Jim Spates (Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Geneva, New York) will explain how Ruskin's deep love of Nature motivated his life-long commitment to teaching those who read his books and attended his lectures not merely what Beauty was, but to generate in them a similar love of Nature and dedication to preserving it before the forces of modernity destroyed it altogether. The talk will be profusely illustrated with images of the French, Swiss, and Italian Alps (recently visited by Dr. Spates) which served as prime sources of Ruskin's inspiration.

3:45-5:00 PM:

"The Fortunate Fall: John Ruskin, William Morris and the Revival of Craftsmanship": The origin of the Arts and Crafts movement and its insistence on the necessity of beauty can be traced to John Ruskin’s book The Stones of Venice and its central chapter ‘On the Nature of Gothic’. Clive Wilmer, who teaches at Sidney Sussex College, University of Cambridge, will be arguing that Ruskin’s insistence on our innate imperfection as humans as the motive force behind all creativity derives from St Augustine’s doctrine of Original Sin. Strange though it may seem, this conviction leads ineluctably to William Morris’s conviction that ‘art is the expression of man’s pleasure in labour’ and, from that, to the Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain and North America.

Clive Wilmer is the current Master of The Guild of St. George, the organization created in the 1870s by Ruskin, the intent of which was to counter the ravages of rampant industrialization, while, at the same time, creating humane, environmentally friendly communities across the UK.

5:15-6:00 PM: Reception and Discussion.

A wine and cheese gathering, affording a chance for those attending to talk with the presenters will follow Clive Wilmer's lecture.