Cushion Cover (ca 1900) embroidered by May Morris.
This work is part of the Botanical Expressions exhibition
at the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum.
Drawing upon my roots in anthropology as well as my recent experiences with linked data in library and information sciences, my research in design history is centered on the deep conviction that more nuanced understandings of aesthetic impulses and influences are made possible through the examination of holistic communities than through exemplary individuals. While William Morris was certainly a singular genius, a true understanding of the reach of his ideas requires looking not simply at his own accomplishments, but at the wider network of artists, makers, suppliers, and customers that he brought together. The Morris & Co. Embroidery Workshop provides an ideal site to begin this web-weaving. My previous academic work within Pratt Institute’s History of Art and Design graduate program has revolved heavily around nineteenth century textiles and embroidery, including research on May Morris and floral wallpapers for Anca Lasc’s Daughters of Eve: Glamorized Femininity, Fashion, and Interiors From Versailles To Today and on the Medieval roots of the art needlework movement for Frima Hofrichter’s Art by Women: 15th Century to the Present. I recently returned to research on May and William Morris in my work as a curatorial intern for the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum’s upcoming exhibition Botanical Expressions, a project that solidified for me the feedback loops between natural environment and artistic expression that underpin the work of the Morris & Co. Embroidery Workshop.
Finally, echoing William Morris’ conviction in the importance of firsthand experience, I also draw upon more than five years of work as a natural dyer and textile artist. Building upon the work of Morris scholars such as Virginia Davis and Ray Watkinson, my current research aims to explore the ways in which the personal and professional relationships between the individuals at the Leek Embroidery Society, Merton Abbey Mills, and Morris & Co. Embroidery Workshop, as well as private contractors for Morris & Co, impacted the aesthetic output of the firm. Operating within the frameworks of political economy and ecology, this work hopes to make more visible Morris’ guiding belief in the dialectical relationship between the goods produced and the means of production. It will trace object histories from the gathering of dyestuffs to the purchase of pillows, taking note of all the human relationships that form along those journeys. The Huntington Library in San Marino holds a rich trove of resources that address these questions, including Morris’ Merton Abbey Dyebook and letters of William and May Morris. Given the rare and fragile nature of these materials, an in-person visit to the library is a must for my research needs. Once these ideas are investigated and arranged, the Centre for the History of Retailing and Distribution’s forthcoming conference Retailing, Distribution and the Natural World: Historical Perspectives presents an ideal staging ground for this conversation, through its emphasis on the intersections of ecology, aesthetics, and consumption. I would like to use any funding provided by the Dunlap Fellowship to support my travel to the Huntington Library and to Retailing, Distribution and the Natural World: Historical Perspectives conference. Ultimately, this research will form the first chapter of my master’s thesis exploring the links between the Arts & Crafts movement in England and the Celtic Revival in Ireland through the embroidery and textile works produced by the two respective communities.