30th December 2015
We are excited to announce the launch of our new range of products, in the licensed William Morris design Brother Rabbit. Designed by Morris in 1881, the design wasn’t registered until 1882. It was block printed on cotton by the indigo discharge method using indigo blue and white.
The inspiration behind the design lies with the childrens stories Morris used to read to his daughters Jenny and May. It was named after a character in Uncle Remus, His Songs and his Sayings by J.C. Harris. The book is centred around Uncle Remus, a fictional narrator of the African- American folktales adapted and compiled in seven Uncle Remus books. They are a collection of animal stories, songs and oral folklore collected from Southern United States African-Americans. Many are diadactic, with Uncle Remus as an elderly former slave who passes on folktales to children who are gathered around him. As you can see by the exerpt below, the stories are written in an eye dialect devised by the author to represent a Deep South Gullah dialect- so when you read it, in your head read it in that accent!
‘”Didn’t the fox never catch the rabbit, Uncle Remus?” asked the little boy the next evening.
“He come mighty nigh it, honey, sho’s you born—Brer Fox did. One day atter Brer Rabbit fool ‘im wid dat calamus root, Brer Fox went ter wuk en got ‘im some tar, en mix it wid some turkentime, en fix up a contrapshun w’at he call a Tar-Baby, en he tuck dish yer Tar-Baby en he sot ‘er in de big road, en den he lay off in de bushes fer to see what de news wuz gwine ter be. En he didn’t hatter wait long, nudder, kaze bimeby here come Brer Rabbit pacin’ down de road—lippity-clippity, clippity-lippity—dez ez sassy ez a jay-bird. Brer Fox, he lay low. Brer Rabbit come prancin’ ‘long twel he spy de Tar-Baby, en den he fotch up on his behime legs like he wuz ‘stonished. De Tar Baby, she sot dar, she did, en Brer Fox, he lay low.”
At the time, the stories were conveyed in a manner that were not seen as racist by the audience. By the mid 20th Century, the dialect and the ‘Old Uncle’ stereotype of the narrator were considered demeaning of the African-American people.
Br’er Rabbit (Brother Rabbit) is the main characters, a mischevious character who though likeable, is prone to trouble making, and who is often opposed by Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear. You may know these characters and stories better from the Walt Disney adaptation, “Song of the South” (1946) as Uncle Remus was portrayed by James Baskett.