For the English artist and book illustrator Walter Crane, art ‘was at once creative and adaptive, capable of lifting men's thoughts onto the loftiest plane.’
The first half of his career was dedicated to inspiring children with his book illustrations. He is considered one of the most influential children’s book creators of his generation, substantially raising standards of book illustration. In the second half of his career he used his art to inspire the workers. He became interested in liberal politics in the 1860s and in 1884, he joined the Social Democratic Federation. A didactic element began to underlie much of his work, and he contributed weekly illustrations to the socialist periodicals Justice and The Commonwealth, as well as producing annual illustrations celebrating May Day – such as the one featured on this tea towel – for the socialist magazine The Clarion.
As a member of the Arts and Crafts movement, Crane was in favour of social reform at the same time as condemning the dehumanising effects of industry. In this illustration for May Day 1895, Crane includes slogans that reflect this philosophy: ‘the land for the people’, ‘no child toilers’, ‘production for use not for profit’, ‘the plough is a better backbone than the factory’, ‘shorten working day and lengthen life’ to name a few.