Page 1: Biography
Morris, Edith Emily
Jewellery designer, silversmith
This biography, written by Moira White, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 2000.
Edith Emily Hopson was born on 6 December 1895 in Hougham, Kent, England, the daughter of Emily Elizabeth Whittingstall and her husband, Edward Richard Hopson, a grocer’s assistant. The family later moved to Finchley, where her father was employed as a government official. Edith married Leonard Kenneth Morris, a captain in the machine-gun corps, in Hendon, Middlesex, on 2 November 1918. They were to have two sons.
The family emigrated to New Zealand in 1924, settling in Auckland. By 1927 they had moved to Dunedin, and by 1930, Wanganui. Here the Morrises were involved in amateur theatricals, especially the design of costumes and stage sets. About 1929–30 they helped to found the Wanganui Players. The family moved to Wellington by 1934 and Edith Morris took a course in metalworking at Wellington Technical College. Building on the basic skills she acquired, in 1936 she began producing jewellery and metalwork from a workshop overlooking the sea at her home in Days Bay.
From 1937 Edith Morris was for many years a regular contributor to the annual exhibitions of the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts. Her work was displayed elsewhere intermittently. She was an enthusiastic and eclectic reader and became familiar with the art and design traditions of many cultures, influences which were sometimes incorporated in her work. New Zealand subject matter was also used. Greenstone, Maori design elements, and native birds all featured at times.
Edith Morris worked predominantly in silver, generally using soldered layers of metal. The finish was usually a plain polished surface but sometimes an artificially ‘antiqued’ background was applied as contrast to the design outlines. She used gold occasionally – typically for details or gilding. In 1945 the arts columnist Joan Gillies said that her work had ‘such a feeling of life and vitality’ that one almost expected the creatures she depicted to start moving. Semi-precious stones, often large and unfaceted, featured in most of Morris’s rings and brooches. Her interest in astrology gave an added level of interest to their use.
As well as rings, bracelets, necklaces, earrings and spoons, Morris made miscellaneous items such as paperweights, bookmarks and hair-pins. Her prices varied according to her assessment of the client’s character and appreciation of her craft. Her hallmark was a feathered arrow enclosed in an oval. Examples of her work, most of which were donated by the poet Charles Brasch, are held in the Otago Museum, and also in private collections in New Zealand and overseas. Her customers included foreign diplomats working in Wellington. Morris also sewed by hand, played the piano, drew and painted. She was an abrupt, forthright person with a sarcastic wit, but was known for her spontaneous generosity and was respected for her integrity.
Edith Morris was an influential jewellery designer and silversmith, and one of a few women in New Zealand during the middle of the twentieth century who earned a living as a practising craftsperson. She died in Wellington Hospital on 28 December 1965 and was buried at Makara. She was survived by her husband and sons. A retrospective exhibition, ‘Edith Morris, Silversmith’, was held at the Otago Museum in 1994.