In the world of art, the idea that the maker would value things made by hand doesn’t sound so unique. However, if you consider our present artistic and industrial climate that is grappling with automation, when and when not to use it, as well as a virtual world of data and design that is still being developed, something handmade can often feel forgotten or at the very least quaint.

William Morris: Designing an Earthly Paradise, on view at the Cleveland Museum of Art, is a truly gorgeous look at a pioneer of the Arts and Crafts movement. Morris was known as one of the most hardworking and influential textile designers, poets, novelists, bookmakers and social activists the world has ever seen.

“William Morris devoted his life to creating beautiful and useful objects using the highest-quality materials under fair labor conditions. His richly varied patterns have been reproduced without interruption since his death in 1896, testifying to their timeless appeal,” states the museum on its website.

One look around the exhibit, which features textiles and books designed by Morris, and you quickly begin to hear and see the powerful voice of this person who, through his labors, was able to make work that transcends generations and remains relevant more than 120 years after his death.

Honeysuckle (bleached linen, block printed) is a pattern inspired by this well-known plant indigenous to much of Europe. “Unlike German and Japanese textile designers, or his English competitors, he was inspired not by exotic greenhouse flowers but by the simple blooms of the English garden,” writes Cory Korkow, associate curator of European art at the museum.

While the textiles are certainly representational of their subject matter, there remains a unique translation, style or “flair” that highlights the designer’s vision. How the blossoms are illustrated and the color palette chosen by Morris create a depth and a vibrancy for this pattern that broadens its appeal.

Strawberry Thief (indigo-discharged cotton, block printed) features a design inspired by watching birds, in this case thrushes, stealing strawberries from the garden at his home.

Like so many of Morris’ textiles, there is a playfulness and joy in making that comes through. Strawberries seemingly sprout and almost loop out from the plant in dramatic fashion, only to be eaten by highly patterned thrushes. This was one of Morris’ most popular patterns and continues to be to this day.

What is intriguing about patterns or pattern-making is the parameters the maker sets up. There is a structure and repetition the maker must follow to create the pattern; when things go wrong, this can create a lack of excitement and energy. However, Morris’ spirit is seemingly harnessed in this process and in the parameters he created for himself. It’s a part of what makes his work so strong, influential and timeless.

The Story of Sigurd the Volsung is a look at the opening lines of an epic poem in a book printed by the Kelmscott Press. Morris founded the press in 1891 and the museum is fortunate enough to have each of the 53 titles it printed.

The press featured ornaments and typefaces created by Morris, and several books, including this one, were illustrated by Edward Burne-Jones, a painter and longtime friend of Morris. Like the textiles, these are highly patterned works that highlight Morris’ design prowess, while harkening to the earlier days of the printing press. Detailed and labored over, these pages stand on their own, let alone as part of a book.

The Chaucer type, created by Morris, has elements that flow into the border ornaments. If you look closely, the “G” and the “P” curl and swoop like the patterns lining the border of the page. This connection of the type and the visual elements creates an almost meditative moment for the reader, drawing you into the page and the fantasy world Morris was working to create.

Like so many things the Cleveland Museum of Art does, this exhibit is beautiful in its detail and in how it’s presented. The museum has done an excellent job showing Morris not only as a designer and maker, but also as a person and visionary. This show offers a momentary respite from our own time and gives a glimpse into a world created by an artist who lived long ago but who continues to influence thought to this day.

Contact Anderson Turner at haturner3@gmail.com.