Book Review: Ancient Memories

Ancient Memories:  The Glass Sculpture Of William Morris, by Kennesaw State University

I must admit this was not what I had in mind when I was looking for writings by William Morris.  I had in mind the writings of the founder of the arts & crafts movement, and what my library had instead was a piece of intriguing ephemera from a show of some of the glasswork of a contemporary William Morris who has a studio in the Pacific Northwest where he explores animals in an almost totemic way.  This is not what I had in mind but it proved to be an interesting read nonetheless.  The artist, who is quoted in this source, tells the reader (who was meant to be a visitor to the exhibition of works that took place in Georgia decades ago) about his goals in communicating the memories and ways of the past to contemporary people through a skillful and artistic rendering of materials.  But this raises interesting questions.  For example, what aspects of the past are worth remembering?  Does the author have hostility to the ways of Christian Europeans and is he simply wishing to recover a neopagan perspective from indigenous American forms?  These questions are prompted, but not answered, by the short text provided here.

And it is a short text.  In fact, at less than 20 pages, this book really qualifies as more of a booklet or a brochure of the kind that someone would pick up while viewing an exhibit of modern sculpture.  We know when this exhibition occurred, in 1996 in Georgia at Kennesaw State College (now Kennesaw State University).  Included within the brochure are sixteen pieces of art from the studio of William Morris created between 1991 and 1995, and they are listed at the end of the book, from a burial raft to a garnering, from a burial urn to a suspended artifact to various canopic jars in wolf and raven form to a tooth to a pouch, raven, shard, and coyote.  Interspersed among the pictures of the works is an essay by Gary Blonston that seeks to present William Morris as a contemporary creator of glass sculptures that manage to recapture the past in certain important ways through presenting the viewer with an image of nature red in tooth and claw, of something that is both looking backwards while also remaining contemporary in its approach and creation, seeking to stir the imagination of the contemporary viewer the way that they stirred the imagination of people in the past.

And, of course, this leads to certain questions.  Why was this brochure preserved?  How is it that an ephemeral piece written and designed for a small glass sculpture show in suburban Atlanta made its way to a library system in Oregon?  I must admit I am not familiar with the studio of William Morris, or at least was not before reading this book (and another one, review forthcoming), but someone thought this worth preserving.  Was it sent by the show at Kennesaw State itself or was it brought by someone who had seen the show and wanted to bring it back to Oregon?  At this point, since the show was more than twenty years ago, the motive cannot be to promote the show, but for some reason someone wishes to preserve the memory of that show.  Who, and why?  Is the art of William Morris worth appreciating?  To be sure, the glass sculptures are vivid in color and sometimes striking in design, but what motives did the sculptor have in making them.  Surely it was not enough to populate the dreams and nightmares of the people viewing it.  Surely there was some deeper purpose, one that the artist is not willing to be candid about or that no one has thought to ask him about.  Otherwise, why remember this sort of art at all?

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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