When William Morris saw thrushes stealing strawberries from his garden at Kelmscott Manor, he was inspired to create one of the most iconic designs of the Arts and Crafts Movement: “Strawberry Thief.”
Morris created the pattern around 1883, and it was the first design for a printed cotton furnishing textile using a printing technique in which red and yellow dyes were added to a basic blue and white background. Although it was one of Morris & Co.’s most expensive printed textiles, customers couldn’t get enough of it, using it for curtains, draping it on walls, and covering furniture with it. In more recent years, the design has lined a Barbour jacket and even led to an iPad game created by the V&A Museum in London.
“Strawberry Thief” is one of the items in the important collection of Pre-Raphaelite art and related Arts and Crafts Movement ceramics, metalwork, furniture and clothing held by the Tullie House Museum in Carlisle, England.
The Pre-Raphaelites were a group of seven 19th-century artists who emulated painters before the time of the artist Raphael because they thought that paintings made since then were “insincere.” They are known for their serious subjects, elaborate symbolism, bright colors and strong attention to detail. Edward Burne-Jones is one of the most well-known Pre-Raphaelite painters, and the Tullie House collection includes his designs for the east window of St. Martin’s Church in Brampton, Cumbria, which was designed in 1878 by Philip Webb, the acclaimed Arts and Crafts architect. Burne-Jones made 15 designs featuring figures and angels for the church’s east window; Morris & Co. created the window’s floral background and lead patterns, chose the jewel-like color scheme, and executed the design in stained glass.
These items are displayed in the museum’s Old Tullie House, on the site where a dwelling place of some kind has stood since the late 13th century. The Tullie family lived here from 1624 until 1689, when the old building known as “White Hall” was torn down and replaced with the Jacobean-style house that is there today.
When Tullie House opened as an “Institute of Science, Literature and the Arts” in 1893, architect C.J. Ferguson designed an addition, but retained the original wrought-iron staircase inset with heraldic shields of the City of Carlisle.
In this building, you can also see a violin made circa 1566 by Andrea Amati, an influential Italian violin-maker who perfected the shape, size and proportions of the violin as we know it today. This beautiful instrument was part of a set of 38 violins, violas and cellos that Amati made for the court of King Charles IX of France. The back of the instrument still has fragments of a decoration featuring the royal coat of arms, together with a crowned letter “K”, the initial letter of “Karolus,” a Latinized form of “Charles.” The museum shop sells a compact disc recording of Simon Standage, an English violinist who specializes in 17th- and 18th-century music, playing compositions by Nicola Matteis and Heinrich Biber on this rare and important violin.
Other galleries and special exhibitions at the museum are devoted to the history of Carlisle and Cumbria. One recent exhibition focused on the Carlisle historical pageants of 1928, 1951 and 1977.
During the 20th century, communities across England, Scotland and Wales staged theatrical re-enactments of significant local and national historical events. Thousands of people were involved as performers, organizers and spectators. The Carlisle pageants included re-enactments of the Roman occupation of the city, King Edward I’s visit during his march to fight the Scots, the imprisonment of Mary Stuart in Carlisle Castle, and the invasion of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s army. Rare film footage of the 1928 pageant was on view, together with costumes, photographs, ephemera and recordings of oral histories given by Carlisle pageant participants. The exhibition was part of “The Redress of the Past: Historical Pageants in Britain, 1905-2016,” a research project to create a public database of historical pageants, a book and other publications about them. This souvenir napkin was produced for Princess Mary’s attendance at the closing performance of the 1928 historical pageant. “Anyone visiting Carlisle might well fancy they have dropped into a dream of fairyland…,” the souvenir proclaims.