In 1912, the Marquess of Bute founded the Edinburgh Tapestry Company – now known as Dovecot – in order to provide tapestry wall-hangings for his Scottish seat, Mount Stuart. With no history of tapestry weaving in Scotland, this was a hugely important move for the craft in Scotland.

The Marquess sought his master weavers – John Glasbrook and Gordon Berry - from the most respected workshop of the moment, the studio of the designer William Morris, who eschewed the more modern industrial process in favour of the skill of human hand and knowledge.

And so some 110 years later to this Dovecot exhibition, which once more brings the William Morris workshop to Edinburgh, although this time it is the wooden printing blocks and archival prints of his wallpapers that will be on display for the first time in the UK.

Placing Morris in the context of the times in which he emerged as a serious designer, and a figurehead of the Arts & Crafts movement, the exhibition contains many original prints, some of which have annotations scribbled by Morris.

“It’s rather lovely, you can see it’s very personal,” says Dovecot Curator Kate Grenyer, mid-way through installing the exhibition. “It was an extraordinary time in design history. Seeing Morris in context is what is so fascinating.”

Morris was a pioneer, encouraged by like-minded artists and friends such as Edward Burne-Jones in his passion for the hand-made, championing the collaboration between the designer and the craftsperson, something which still guides the modern approach to craft, not least at Dovecot. His designs have withstood the aesthetic changes of some 170 years of fashion, including a particularly garish colour reboot during the 1960s.

In Morris’ day, each finely-coloured wallpaper was hand block printed, briefly and unsuccessfully by Morris himself, determined to learn the craft but admitting himself wanting, but subsequently by printers Jeffrey & Co. “They feel like handcrafted prints,” says Grenyer. “There’s an incredible quality that you don’t see in modern wallpaper. It’s like being in a print exhibition!”

Morris had reacted against a Victorian aesthetic background of naturalistic yet flamboyantly ornate florals, frequently embossed, and wildly garish. There were designers who embraced the machine age, such as Christopher Dresser, with his brilliantly successful mass-produced yet fine domestic objects, and Pugin, whose austere Gothic-inspired wallpaper for Westminster Palace was the stern-faced opposite of his more outlandishly elaborate peers.

And Morris too, markedly freer and more organic in his designs than Pugin or Dresser, decorated palaces, or at least one. He designed a wallpaper for Balmoral which still hangs today, “I’m not sure where...a corridor I think!” says Grenyer. The design was, unusually, flocked – hugely popular with the Victorian middle classes – replete with royal symbols and entirely different to the rest of Morris’ output. “It was made as a one-off, only for Balmoral, and was not a wallpaper that you could buy,” she tells me. “They can still remake it if they need to do any repairs, because Morris still have the block in the archives.”

All the stages of Morris’ career are covered here, from his first design – Daisy – with Morris, Marsh, Faulkner & Co, the company he founded in 1861 aged 23 with the somewhat A-List Pre-Raphelite painterly set of Ford Maddox Brown, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones, alongside the architect Philip Webb (who designed Morris’ house, The Red House) and the engineer/artist Peter Paul Faulkner, amongst others. In 1875, after what may have been creative and may have been personal squabbles, although never with Burne-Jones, he took on the sole control of the company as Morris & Co. And it was wallpapers that had been the most successful part of that first company, a legacy he took in to Morris & Co. His first successful early design, Trellis, is still produced today, although his designs clearly evolved over the considerable period of his output, something which Dovecot is charting out on the walls. “Noone else in the firm designed wallpaper, or was interested in it, or thought it mattered to people,” says Grenyer, of Morris’ beginnings. Wallpaper was one area of handmade craft that could be relatively inexpensive, “because you could produce an intricate pattern with three blocks of colour not seven or eight.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, despite the march of technology, to which Morris was so healthily opposed, the ethos to which the company was founded still holds true – whilst the wallpaper is digitally printed, Grenyer says that you can still order hand block printed Morris wallpapers from the original blocks, “if you’ve got deep enough pockets!” For the rest of us, wandering round the exhibition, it’s all a lightly flocked flight of the imagination.

The Art of Wallpaper – Morris & Co, Dovecot Studios, 10 Infirmary Street, Edinburgh, 0131 550 3660, 28 Jan – 11 Jun, Mon – Sat, 10am – 5pm, Adults £10.50, Under 12 Free; other concessions available. Viewing by appointment at

Critic's Choice:

AFTER the popular North Uist artist and teacher Katharine Barr (1935 – 2014) passed away, an annual award was set up in her name to run for four years, a bursary given for the first three to visual artists from the Uists and Barra, and in the fourth year to a poet, for Barr was also a poet.

Three/Tr[i] is a showing of the work of those three visual artists at Taigh Chearsabhagh, completed as a result of the award - Margaret Fenton, Peter Ferguson and Margaret MacLellan.

Barr’s own work was concerned with landscape and light, not least the ever-changing light on the water beyond her own North Uist window. Fenton, Ferguson and MacLellan each contemplate the landscape and the artist’s relationship to it, in different ways.

Fenton’s work (pictured), some three years in the making, is an exploration, a documentation of the Locheport Road from its passing places. MacLellan, who is herself a lecturer at Lews Castle College and was friends with Barr, has produced work from her proposal to walk from her home, exploring the coastline “accounting the changing weather fronts”.

Her work includes drawings, paintings and etchings, traced in different seasons, the shore and her path the anchor.

Ferguson’s work is his own response to “the sense of flatness in the machair edges: from the weight of long horizons and tall skies.

Of moveable edges, such as waves and tidelines. And the indistinctness of rain and wind … there are elements of both the repetition and the differences you find in living within one place over the seasons.” It is, in all, a fitting tribute to - and legacy from - the woman for whom these awards were named.

Three/Tr[i], Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum and Arts Centre, Lochmaddy, North Uist, Western Isles, 01870 603970, Until 26 Feb, Mon - Sat, 10am - 4pm

Don't Miss:

ALL forms fleshly – or at least humanly so – range across the walls of the Hunterian this month with the opening of a new collaborative exhibition, Flesh Arranges Itself Differently, which explores the notions of embodiment, materiality and exposure in the lived – and otherwise – experience of our bodies. Bringing together objects from the permanent collection of the Hunterian with artworks from the Roberts Institute of Art, the exhibition is a juxtaposition of art and science, of physical and ephemeral, of knowledge and the imagination.

Flesh Arranges Itself Differently, The Hunterian Art Gallery, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, 0141 330 4221,, Until 3 April, Tues - Sun, 10am - 5pm