Wednesday 12 April 2023

Zoom Lecture: The Beauty, Politics, and Practicalities of Plants: William Morris and the Garden


The Beauty, Politics, and Practicalities of Plants: William Morris and the Garden

A lecture by Dr. Sarah Leonard

Monday April 24, 2023, 7PM EDT
Members Only Zoom Lecture

Marie Spartali Stillman, Kelmscott Manor. c. 1904. Mark Samuels Lasner Collection, University of Delaware Library.

“In this presentation, I will explore the importance of the garden to William Morris’s utopian vision and everyday life. Prolific and unpretentious gardens were essential elements of – and symbols of – Morris’s ideal society, appearing frequently in his political and literary texts. This ideal garden, with its combination of structure and free growth, was also an influence on his famed designs for wallpapers and textiles. And last – but certainly not least – gardens were also very real physical spaces at Red House, Kelmscott House, and Kelmscott Manor. This talk will interweave these strands – political, literary, artistic, and horticultural – in order to give a fuller vision of Morris’s garden ideals. I will also look to the larger history of the Victorian and Edwardian garden in order to contextualize Morris’s work, considering both the trends he reacted against and the like-minded artists and gardeners who shared and perpetuated his views and aesthetics, creating a quintessentially English, Arts and Crafts garden style which has remained highly influential into the twenty-first century.”

Dr. Sarah Mead Leonard studies the art, and design, and landscapes of Victorian Britain. She is particularly interested in human interactions with the natural world, and of course the works of William Morris. Her PhD dissertation, “‘The beauty of the bough-hung banks’: William Morris in the Thames Landscape,” investigated Morris’s complex lifelong relationship with the river and its tributaries. A portion of that research was published in the 2021 British Art Studies article “Printed Ecologies: William Morris and the Rural Thames.” She is currently a Postdoctoral Associate in Research at the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, Connecticut.

Dr. Leonard holds MAs in Historic Landscape Studies from the University of York, UK, and Art History from the University of Delaware, and a PhD in Art History from the University of Delaware. She has held fellowships at institutions including the Huntington Library, New College Oxford, and Dumbarton Oaks, and she is a proud past recipient of the William Morris Society in the United States’s Dunlap Fellowship. She has served on the board of the William Morris Society in the United States since 2019, and currently holds the position of Vice President. She also manages two Twitter- based digital projects about William Morris: @EveryMorris, tweeting about every printed pattern by Morris & Co., and @ScreenMorris, tweeting about uses of Morris & Co. patterns in TV and movie set design.

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