Mary 'May' Morris (25 March 1862 – 17 October 1938) was one of the most important figures of the Arts and Crafts movement. A successful designer of wallpaper, jewellery and woven textiles, May was most influential as a pioneer of art embroidery; her work and expertise were in demand across the world. Yet her achievements have often been overshadowed by her more famous father, William Morris.
As the younger daughter of William and Jane Morris, May grew up around some of the Victorian era's most celebrated artists and designers. At just 23 she took over the embroidery section of Morris & Co, overseeing every new design. She also undertook special commissions and exhibited her work regularly in Arts and Crafts exhibitions in the UK, Europe, Australia and America. This was embroidery as art: intricate, delicate and expressive.
Throughout the 1890s and 1900s, May was heavily involved in the Arts and Crafts Movement, exhibiting, teaching and lecturing widely, including in the US where her work was particularly influential. She was also an expert in historic needlework.
May was active within the emergent Socialist movement but did not join the Suffragette actions, believing social equality to be more important than gender equality. However, barred from joining the male only Art Workers Guild, and recognising that women craft workers often lacked the professional support and fellowship of their male counterparts, May founded the Women's Guild of Arts in 1907. Notable members included the painter Evelyn De Morgan, jeweller Georgie Gaskin, bookbinder Katherine Adams and sculptor Mabel White.
In her private life May had a number of romantic relationships, including with the playwright George Bernard Shaw and the Socialist Henry Halliday Sparling, whom she married but later divorced.
May divided her time between London and Kelmscott Manor, her family's Cotswold retreat. In later years she moved to Kelmscott full time, sharing the house with her companion Mary Lobb. The latter part of May's life was dedicated to pursuing her own creative endeavours as well as preserving and shaping her father's memory. She spent years editing 24 volumes of his collected works and lectured widely on his life. She died at Kelmscott Manor on 17 October 1938, at the age of 76.
Her will safeguarded the family's culturally significant possessions, and many of her own works were gifted to museums around the UK. Despite this, her significance for the Arts and Crafts movement was largely forgotten until the end of the twentieth century when a renewed interest in craft and the heritage of the movement re-established her place as one of its most influential designer craftswomen.