The William Morris Society in the U.S. is pleased to award the 2017 Dunlap Fellowship to Sarah Leonard, a Ph.D. candidate in Art History at the University of Delaware. Her dissertation, “‘The beauty of the bough-hung banks’: William Morris in the Thames Landscape,” promises to be an important contribution not only to Morris studies but to understanding of the natural environment in the Victorian era. Here is Sarah’s summary of her project:
My dissertation investigates the disparate riverside landscapes of the Victorian Thames as dominant presences in Morris’s varied and intertwined roles as designer, author, political thinker, and factory owner. As a lifelong London resident, Morris was most familiar with the polluted, industrialized city Thames. However, he drew visual inspiration from the rural landscape of the Upper Thames around Kelmscott for his famous pattern designs, and he put forward the same landscape as a medievalist and Socialist pastoral ideal in his poetry, novels, and political writings. At the same moment, he was searching out clean river water for the industrial production of his fabrics and using that water to wash dyestuffs away from his printed fabrics and downstream into the London river.
In order to understand Morris’s thoughts on the Thames landscape, the inspiration he drew from it, and the ways he interacted with it, it is essential to consider the Thames and its tributaries as he might have known them – physically, in how they looked and functioned, and culturally, in how they were addressed by the writers, artists, and thinkers with whom Morris would have been familiar. Therefore, my combined landscape studies and art historical approach looks to art, literature, archival records, and the physical sites of Morris’s life to form a broad and detailed account of Morris’s Thames landscapes, their uses and depictions, and their cultural context. This account reveals the ways in which Morris’s physical and cultural landscapes manifested in the design and production of his works, focusing particularly on the series of printed patterned fabrics he named for tributaries of the Thames and its estuary: Cray, Evenlode, Kennet, Lea, Lodden, Medway, Wandle, Wey, and Windrush.
I will use the funds provided by the Dunlap Fellowship to support a research trip to the United Kingdom, currently planned for summer 2017. During this trip, I will visit a number of council archives and local museums to view documentation and images of Morris’s riverside landscapes. This material, along with research I plan to undertake in the maps collection of the British Library, will help to reveal the historic features of Morris’s landscapes, as well as the changes they underwent both in his lifetime and in the ensuing 120 years. I will also view Thames imagery and ephemera at both the Museum of London and the River and Rowing Museum, Henley, and study Morris’s original tributary pattern designs at the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Birmingham Art Gallery. All of this work is essential to my landscape- and ecology-focused interpretation of Morris’s works and legacy, and will contribute particularly to my dissertation chapters concerning Morris’s London and the Merton Abbey factory.