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The power of print

A riot of colour and pattern at the River & Rowing Museum's new William Morris exhibition. We likey!

I’ll admit it now – I’m a bit of a William Morris nut. I spent quite a long time caressing curtains in his Cotswolds home, Kelmscott Manor, while Mr M yawned outside in the garden, and I personally loved it when Modern Art Oxford did that fantastic Warhol/Morris art mash up a few years back.

Though William Morris fabrics are more my mother’s taste than mine, I love their vibrancy and I think that’s what is also appealing to children in this new exhibition at the River & Rowing Museum in Henley.

The downstairs gallery space here is small and is clearly not the only calling card for a museum dedicated to the river, but there’s been a steady stream of incredible artists over the last few years, including Matisse, Hockney, Barbara Hepworth and the impressive permanent display from John Piper.

Now comes An Earthly Paradise, an exploration of the (slightly hopeful?) relationship between Morris’s work and the Thames – he had a retreat in Oxfordshire and used to boat and fish locally and let’s go with it – a lot of his patterns are kind of ripply and swirly, right?!

The exhibition is a winning combination of personal effects, technical info on his work (looms, woodblocks, dyestuffs), huge fabric samples hung as works of art, and some awesome colour clashing – I mean, how wacky is this curtain, wallpaper, cushion combo, below?!  The theme continues upstairs but more broadly, looking at how the Victorians used the Thames back in the day.

There are all the family-friendly elements that the River & Rowing Museum does so well on display here – Victorian hats to try on, a gallery trail for littlies, tables on which kids can create and draw.

This exhibition won’t trouble you for more than half an hour but I’m a massive fan of dipping into art/creativity like this – the kids will learn something, you’ll grab a bit of adult time, there’s a lovely bright cafe on site for lunch and then you’re right on the river, play park and the loveliest bits of Henley for the rest of the day.

The exhibition is on until 14 July so you have acres of time in which to see it – but if you’re going slightly crazy by this point in the half term, add this to the mix. Make sure you give yourself enough time to plunder the gift shop too – it’s gone Morris-tastic and looks fabulous. Go on, dare you to buy your dad one of those ties!

An Earthly Paradise, River & Rowing Museum, Mill Meadows, Henley, Oxfordshire, RG9 1BF. Tel: 01491 415600.

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