‘Here fine printing of every description, including hand-made notepaper, is undertaken to the glory of God and to the arts of peace’
Guido Morris played an important part in the vibrant art Community that flourished in St Ives, Cornwall in the post war years. Today highly regarded by a small number of keen devotees his work is much admired if little remembered. This brief article will outline his working life, consider some of his work, but most importantly list sources for further study in the hope that it will help you discover more about this artist. The list of sources is not complete, I have yet to track down a copy of The British and Colonial Printer from June 1952 which Baker references, but it is as complete as I can make it and it includes all the major sources for Guido and the Latin Press.
Handsome, charming, engaging and intelligent with an inability to meet a deadline, poor financial control, slow and considered working practices, a willingness not to charge his friends and a keen thirst when he found himself in the Sloop or Castle Inn. Hardly the best characteristics for a self employed artist, but this seems to be the man who lurched from location to location with or without his press and type to establish the Latin Press and further his dream of raising the work of the jobbing printer to that of the fine artist. Arriving in St Ives just after the War he was directed to the Tower to see Sven Berlin. A kindred spirit who became a good friend, he and Bryan Winter pointed him in the direction of a studio, a bed for the night and no doubt long tales of the art community in the town. Guido described St Ives as being like the fly paper or lamp that attracts and holds the moth. The Cornish period was by far the most productive and successful period of the Latin Press that saw with some meticulous work that chimed with the art of the ‘Moderns’.
Guido Morris exhibited regularly with the artists in St Ives, grumpy traditionalist Harry Rountree might have written ‘and of Morris since when has a jobbing printer been an artist’ but others disagreed. The historically significant exhibition held by the ‘Crypt’ group in 1946 included many works by Morris alongside Sven Berlin, John Wells, Peter Lanyon and Bryan Winter. It was for this exhibition that he produced ‘CATALOgue’ possibly his most often reproduced work. An early if not founder member of the Penwith Society of Artists, Guido remained working until 1953 when the St Ives incarnation of the Latin Press foundered into liquidation owing money to friends, businesses and patrons. A few books, many headed papers, invitations, exhibition catalogues, pamphlets and small works were produced but above all he is remembered for his posters, necessarily ephemeral in nature, these works are his best, beautifully composed and without a doubt those that survive are framed as art on collectors walls much as Morris would have wished. For Guido there was no distinction between art and the craft of printing, he produced beautiful works that have stood the test of time.
So where can you find out more about Guido? The following is a list of sources. Do let me know if I have omitted anything:
The single best source, and one that is quite difficult to track down is this. Published in small numbers the Private Library devoted the Winter edition for 1969 to the Latin Press. 50 pages including a tentative checklist, there is more information here than anywhere else. ‘The Quest for Guido’ by Anthony Baker is a study that grew out of the cataloguing of the Bristol Reference Library’s collection of Latin Press work. A search that began by looking for him in the Cornish telephone book (how times have changed) and ended with a thorough account of the many locations for the press prior to St Ives. There is an account of the St Ives period and the brief work that followed. The printing machinery that comes and goes and the many people that did their best to support and cherish Guido are all recorded here. The troubled post-St Ives years being encapsulated by a quote from St Ives based author Arthur Caddick ‘It riles me that he should drift on as probably the worst guard the underground ever had, when he could be happy as the best printer int he kingdom’. A short appreciation from Leeds City Librarian G.B. Hutchings adds colour.
One of the best sources for first hand information is The Cornish Review, Series 1, No.3 Autumn 1949. In this volume is the article My Life as a Printer from the ‘My Life As’ series of features on local craftsmen. This is the most accessible source about Guido that you are likely to find. The wonderful Cornish Review was a magazine of Arts and Culture put together by Denys Val Baker, the first series running to ten editions from 1949 – 1952. The original magazine can be found, more easily there was an anthology published in 2009 by Westcliffe Books which includes this article. Alongside the image which starts this post there are five further images in black and white which are rather too small to show the work in any sort of detail. A Good report of Guido and his thoughts at a time when St Ives was arguably at its most exciting. A short poem by Guido ‘Carncrows’ appeared in number six of the first series. The second series of the Cornish Review began in Spring 1966, this edition included some reminiscences from local author Arthur Caddick which include memories of Guido, chief amongst them being the way in which he would get harangued by disgruntled clients ‘You ask that there Guido Morris about my letterheads!’.
From the same period an article ‘My First Years as a Printer’ by Guido appeared in an obscure Bristol publication Facet, Autumn edition 1949. This was reprinted in Matrix 18, it is a good account of Morris in his pre St Ives years. He states that he boarded a train on Guy Fawkes’ Day in 1945 finding himself by chance in St Ives. Full of the hopes and dreams of a young printer Morris tells of his ambition to print on paper of his own manufacture. This must have been an exciting period for Morris receiving more interest in his work than ever before and living amongst the artists and crafts workers of St Ives.
Almost contemporary with the Cornish Review and Facet articles is the chapter published in John Farleigh’s book The Creative Craftsman published in 1950. A great source for an interesting range of craftsmen from the early post war years. The chapter on Guido takes a deeper interest in the craft of printing and discusses the use of Bembo and the input he received from Gill and others when making this selection. There is some consideration of modern printing over hand printing and the relationship between design and printing. A useful work for anyone considering the craft of Guido.
An often overlooked source is David Low’s 1973 book With all faults a rye look at the second hand book trade up and down the country but mostly around Charing Cross. Charming in tone and clearly a friend to many names long forgotten, the book includes a brief chapter ‘The Printer’ which tells us about Morris. Based on Anthony Barker’s experience and article this chapter relies heavily on the article in The Private Library. David Low claims to have been a source for some of the information in this article, however he offers little here that is not in Baker’s work.
The character of Sven Berlin looms large over the mid-century years in St Ives, his flamboyant character, larger than life personality as well as his sculptures and paintings are all to be admired. It is perhaps his writings that make him most interesting. He wrote in a fluid romantic manner, never afraid to express an opinion, his works chronicle the artistic life of St Ives and the comings and goings at the ‘Tower’. His most famous book is Dark Monarch probably only because it was withdrawn the moment it was published as a result of a number of actions for libel. A thinly disguised ‘Roman a Clef‘ all the well known figures from St Ives are here. Guido is Lorenzo Smith, a printer with a workshop on the Island, once a train driver on the New York subway, a friend and ally of Berlin who doesn’t disguise his own persona, he is a brilliant printer who is poor at meeting deadlines and gets into scrapes with married women. There really is no attempt to hide the characters in this ‘psychobiograohy’ of St Ives. Everything in Dark Monarch is repeated in a very similar fashion in The Coat of Many Colours from 1994, this volume of Sven’s autobiography, or autosvenography as he liked to call it, includes a chapter about Guido. ‘Architypographus’ details their first meeting from ‘My name is Guido Morris: Printer and Writer. I want somewhere to live and work’ to the brief contact that was made in much later times. Sven and Guido were firm friends with studios close enough to one another for a candle in the window to signal an invitation to a cup of tea.
Guido Morris Fine Printer The Last Chapter was a catalogue of the late printings published by David Wilkinson at the Book Gallery St Ives in 1995. Number four in an occasional Series of Book Gallery Monographs. Limited to 200 copies this is an excellent small work that covers the post St Ives work. In 1970, encouraged by interest in his earlier work, he began printing again. Working in rather diminished circumstances with a general Adana 8 by 5 press lacking his preferred Bembo type. Morris produced headed paper, book plates, envelopes, the occasional poetry and many small works. The catalogue lists a thorough 159 items and must be considered as complete as it is possible to be.
If you can find a copy, David Wilkinson’s Book Gallery in St Ives Catalogue Fifteen from 1999 it is fascinating. Amongst the fine array of St Ives related work that David used to find is ‘A Major Collection of Latin Press Material’. This collection came from the estate of well known local artist Marion Grace Hocken and included what seem to be two wonderfull scrap books … Indeed any of these old catalogues are worth a look as they often included interesting works by Guido and his contemporaries in St Ives.
The tall slim volume Guido Printing for Friends The People & Places of some Saint Ives Latin Press Printings was produced by the St Ives Archive Study Centre to accompany their small exhibition in September 2006. A nice introduction, and if you are new to St Ives it offers a well structured walking tour of the town picking out such highlights as the Guest House where kindly Mr & Mrs Keeley would feed Guido and Sven in the mornings, George Downing’s bookshop where so much good work was shown and the Castle Inn where so many thirsts were quenched. With a good introduction to the Latin Press and images of some of the printings this is a nice volume. It used to be available from the Archive Study Centre … the website for this seems not to work in the way it once did. They do run a Facebook page … perhaps that is where everything is now?
Also from the St Ives Trust Archive Study Centre is Guido Morris An Introduction by Michael Bridge. A lovely little volume with significant input from Daphne Jones a lady who as an Art Student in St Ives ran errands and did the odd jobs as a ‘printers devil’ for Guido for a year in 1949. This work includes some nice images of some rare printings by Guido. Capturing Private Press work in a standard production is always difficult, you miss the qualities of paper, ink and impression, but this gives as good an idea of the range and beauty of his output as any of the works currently available.
A small exhibition was held at the Tate Gallery in St Ives in 1995, less of an exhibition and more of a ‘Study Display’. Dont forget that amongst the permanent galleries at the Tate there are some works by Guido Morris to be seen. And well worth seeing they are. This work Guido Morris A Fine Printer an evaluation by Alan & Isabella Livingston was published to coincide with the 1995 display. Nicely letterpress printed in 12 point Bembo there are 1000 ordinary and 200 special editions of this work. I fear the one I have illustrated here is ‘Ordinary’. A short (about 2,000 words) unillustrated volume this is a nice summary of Guido in a finely presented form that sits well with works like the Crescendo series.
More recently two brief chapters about the Latin press appeared in Roderick Cave’s collection of articles on the work of various Private Presses. One is a reprint of the article from Matrix 18 from 1998. The other from Counter in 2000. The journal Matrix is an excellent source of information on Private Press work. Matrix 15 included a brief article on Morris, and his name crops up from time to time in the indexes of other editions. The first chapter here considers the early years of the Latin Press and the contribution of Beatrice Warde of the Monotype Corporation that did so much to promote fine printing during the inter-war years. Cave is unsurprisingly steeped in the world of Private Presses, he considers the exchange of letters between Morris and Gordon Craig the son of Ellen Terry and pioneer of Modernist Theatre who took an interest in fine printing. Letters which are now split between the Newberry Library in Chicago and the Biblioteque Nationales in Paris. Incidentally it was Gordon Craig who gave Guido the small printing block of a basket of flowers that appears on nearly all Latin Press Work. Names such Count Poloki, Eric Gill, Cobden Sanderson and Stanley Morrison flow through Cave’s writing in a manner that may have you reaching for Google. The second chapter reproduces a fascinating if rambling letter from Guido to Cave from 1971 outlining his current state and on being about to launch a new chapter in the life of the Latin Press. Two very worthwhile additions to the list of resources.
Of the rest, which could fill a shelf or two, the majority make mention but few add more with the majority taking from the above. If I have missed anything significant or insignificant it would be lovely to hear from you. If you have anything to add about Guido or simply admire his work it would equally be lovely to hear from you.
Thank you for looking.