Hill professor introducing you to a Victorian genius

by Len Lear
Posted 1/26/22

There is another William Morris. He was not a movie star or singer.

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Hill professor introducing you to a Victorian genius


If you are familiar with the name William Morris, you are probably thinking of the William Morris Agency, a Hollywood-based talent agency that represents many of the boldface-named entertainers in contemporary film, television and music.

But there is another William Morris. He was not a movie star or singer. In fact, he lived and died before the movies were even invented. This William Morris (1834-1896) was a polymath and one of the 19th century's most brilliant geniuses. He had an outsized, incalculable influence on so many fields of artistic and aesthetic endeavor, from the Victorian Age to the current day. In everything he tried, he wound up rising like a balloon to Himalayan heights of excellence. 

And Chestnut Hill resident Concetta Martone, who holds a Ph.D in Art History from Tyler School of Art and Architecture at Temple University and teaches courses in the history and theory of art and architecture at Thomas Jefferson University and Temple University, will be presenting a virtual lecture and discussion on the life of William Morris on Sat. Jan. 22 at 1 p.m. The Zoom event is sponsored by the Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion, a beautifully restored Victorian mansion in Germantown of which Martone is a board member.

“I have given lectures on the aesthetic movement before but never on William Morris alone,” Martone told us last week during an in-person interview. “He is such a fascinating and important figure. He was one of the first to apply marketing techniques to a lifestyle brand. In that sense, he was very modern.”.

Morris did not go to school as a child, but he read voraciously at home. He finally did go to Marlborough College, but later wrote that he hated every minute at the school, where he was bullied, bored and homesick. He was introspective, thoughtful, sensitive and highly intelligent. And he was not a joiner. 

Morris eventually became a famous poet, novelist, designer, activist for social reform and founder of a very prominent firm that made metalwork, furniture, architectural carvings, stained glass windows and murals. His ideas about art and production stimulated a new way of thinking about the design and making of household objects. Morris' involvement in business bridged the gap between art and skilled manual work when industrial production was becoming the norm. 

Morris put an emphasis on arts and crafts, and his readily available artful goods helped to create the sophisticated home look sought after by the flourishing Victorian middle class. During the Industrial Revolution, with some of its ugly manifestations, Morris was a breath of fresh air. 

Martone's talk will concentrate on Morris’ entrepreneurial efforts, investigating the relationship between his design and production methods and his marketing strategies and socialist ideals.

“I love teaching,” said Martone, who has been teaching at Temple for 15 years. “It is extremely satisfying. I think I learn as much from my students as they learn from me. Every semester is an adventure that's interesting and stimulating. I enjoy the exchanges we have. To lecture to students for an hour and 15 minutes and sustain interest is hard nowadays, when students are so used to brief exchanges on their cellphones, which I do not allow in class. Right now I am teaching remotely, although I prefer teaching in person, where I can see the expressions on students' faces.”

Martone is an art and architectural historian. In 2014, she and her husband, Alfred Drangani (also an architect) founded dMAS, an award-winning design studio in Chestnut Hill.

The couple has three adult children. She was born in Naples, Italy, where she began her studies, later moving to Philadelphia to complete her education. 

The services provided by dMAS (a contraction of design Martone Studio) include feasibility studies, conceptual designs, design of interior spaces, design of new structures and adaptive reuse of existing structures. Their work varies in scale from small interventions to the design of buildings from the ground up.

One thing Concetta loves to do when not working is to cook for groups of friends in their home near Valley Green. “I have my mom's old recipes from Naples,” she said, “and I love making them. She passed away some years ago, but this makes me feel close to her.”

To make reservations for Martone's Zoom talk: ebenezermaxwellmansion.org/interactiveqa