Kelmscott Manor, Attics
(platinum print, Frederick H. Evans, 1896)
So these inverted rafters and ghostly glow,
these soft-lit rough-hewn beams like
internal buttresses, and this empty space
with it twin invitations leading out—
on the left, the five white stairs ascending
to a blackened door; on the right, sunlight
over five shadowed steps inviting you in—
this is the enchanted land of echo and dust motes
that sheltered, like a silent Orphic chorus,
the fervent, fertile brain of William Morris.
On our recent trip to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, I bought a copy of their beautifully produced Handbook detailing highlights of their collections. This morning, I was idly leafing through it and became mesmerized by the photograph that inspired this poem. And I learned that this photograph, one of the very first of the museum’s now extensive holdings in photography, was the thin end of the wedge in winning “art” status for photography in Philadelphia.
Even more intriguing, Arts and Crafts Movement luminary William Morris (painter, poet, textile designer, philosopher, socialist, publisher, an early establisher of the modern fantasy genre) rather disliked photography. Yet, he invited this photographer, Frederick H. Evans, to photograph his home and the home base for his publishing arm, Kelmscott Press. I have long been attracted to his personal motto: “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” William Morris (1834-1986) I have yet to live up to it. This photograph makes me wonder what my limestone basement, now brimming with this and that, would look like empty.
(Images from Morris and Evans in the public domain.)