Friday, April 3, 2009

Prints by William Nicholson

Another guest blog by Kelli Lucas, suggesting a wonderful series of British prints to use for decorating purposes...

Decorating trends swing like a pendulum from one extreme to the other, so it’s not hard to find inspiration for today's hand-made craze in the last revival of interest in handcraft. Fueled by both corporate entities like Martha Stewart and grassroots organizations like Etsy, the current interest in craft has strong parallels in the Arts and Crafts movement of the turn of the twentieth century. Bringing prints from this period into modern craft-inspired interiors can be a great way to add depth to a hand-made aesthetic.

Reacting to a swift spread of industrialization, Arts and Crafts pioneers like William Morris and Gustav Stickley encouraged designers and artisans to explore pre-industrial methods. Though most design buffs know this period by its furniture or ceramics, it was also a movement that produced a revival in historic print-making techniques. As mechanical printing methods like photogravure and half-tone began to spread, printmakers like English artist Sir William Nicholson (1872-1949) returned to woodblock printing, the earliest and most basic form of printing. Cutting their designs into blocks of wood, inking the blocks, and pressing them into paper, Nicholson and his contemporaries were returning to the same methods employed by early printmakers like Albrecht Duerer. Incorporating the Arts and Crafts emphasis on simple, vernacular forms, Nicholson used those woodblocks to create an alphabet series in 1898 that highlighted local London characters with simple outline designs. Charming images with titles like “U for Urchin” offered a tongue-in-cheek look at the personalities that populated the city at the turn of the twentieth century.

With their deliberate simplicity and artful whimsy, prints like Nicholson’s fit beautifully today with interiors that are accented by modern hand crafts. The current hand-made aesthetic abounds in personality and character, but any room that focuses on one style or period exclusively runs the risk of appearing one-dimensional and flat. Choosing a design theme of handmade allows homeowners and decorators to explore the idea of craft across many periods, looking to movements like the Arts and Crafts of 100 years ago for inspiration today.

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