Artist metalworker Sharon Dickinson from Archives Crafts discusses how the work of the Pre-Raphaelites influences her own craft.

  • William Morris Edward Coley Burne-Jones Kelmscott Chaucer
    William Morris, Edward Coley Burne-Jones, Kelmscott Chaucer, 1896

When you reach the end of the exhibition, is there a work which draws you back against the crush and flow of people so that you can bask once more in its presence?

With me it was the Kelmscott Chaucer. The book is such a rich, satisfying object that brings together great literature, art and craft to produce a whole that has an ineffable magic to it. It is clearly the work which William Morris infused with his soul.

Morris took pains to ensure that each aspect of the book’s production was carefully considered.  In the final 4 years of his life he created three type faces, designed 26 initial words, 14 borders and 18 different floriate frames. The ink was carefully chosen and the paper handmade.  He engaged his friend, Burne-Jones to make 87 drawings to illustrate it.

Both Morris and Burne-Jones were visionary artists who wanted to bring a feeling of beauty into the grimy world of Late Victorian England with its smoke and dirt, its tawdry mass produced goods and its oppressed workers.

For me this has a resonance with the world I find myself in today where we are confronted with pollution, badly designed imported goods produced by another set of oppressed workers.  In this world, I, as a craft worker, desire to create beautiful, well-made items that will give their owners pleasure and happiness.

When, years ago, I was interviewed for place on a silversmithing course at Leicester Polytechnic, I said I wanted to make beautiful well-designed jewellery that ordinary people could afford. Later I realised that this was an ideal of William Morris and since that time I often catch myself thinking, what would Morris have thought about that?

The Kelmscott Chaucer is a masterpiece, it embodies the ideals, dreams and artwork of Morris. However it occurs to me that without the tireless work of several other highly skilled individuals it might not exist. Robert Catterson-Smith worked Burne-Jones’ drawings into a form that engraver, William Harcourt-Hooper could use to create the printing blacks. These and other master craftsmen also deserve credit.

Sharon Dickinson of Archives Crafts is an artist metalworker. She lives in Lincolnshire and has been making silver jewellery and Pewter repousse work for over 30 years. You can see her work at Late at Tate Britain on Friday 7 December.