Emily Snow and James Swenson, Art History & Curatorial Studies
The project for which I received an ORCA grant in the 2014-2015 academic year stemmed from my senior thesis project, a requirement for graduating with a bachelor’s degree in art history and curatorial studies, which I did in August 2015. The senior thesis project includes writing a 15- page research paper and giving a ten-minute formal. My topic of choice was the connection between William Morris’s textile designs c. 1875-1885 and his travels to Iceland in 1871 and 1873.
I focused my traveling on the Western Icelandic sites—known today as the Golden Circle, which includes Thingvellir National Park and Geysir—as well as the southwestern coast of Iceland— including lava rock fields, black sand beaches, waterfalls, and even specific glaciers and villages Morris mentioned. Having read the entirety of Morris’s 1871 Icelandic Journals, I selected passages of note and sought to recapture the most influential landscapes and specific locations he described. While I was unable to follow the exact steps of his entire six-week journey through Iceland (as much of the island is inaccessible to vehicles), I was able to take several dozen photographs that are not only relevant to the project, but which serve also as excellent visual representations of the Iceland that William Morris described in his journals. These photographs supplement my original research project greatly and can and will be used to educate others about the art historical connection I have discovered and researched.
Another unplanned yet fruitful aspect of my travels in Iceland was my visit to the National Museum of Iceland. I spent several hours studying, taking notes on, and photographing their largest permanent exhibition which outlines the history of Iceland I was able to gather a lot of information that I previously was unable to find in my library and online research. Most importantly, I was able to photograph and study several examples of traditional Icelandic textiles from and before William Morris’s era. This was an especially exciting find, as photographs of traditional Icelandic textiles are very hard to come by in textbooks! I now have several photographic examples that I can cite in further research that are in line with the claim of my thesis. The National Museum of Iceland also had on display a traditional loom that would have still been used in Iceland when William Morris visited—this specific loom was much like the one he went on to build and use after visiting Iceland, which provides further evidence that the connection I have alleged is indeed correct.
My photography and research dependent on travel to Iceland is now complete and exceeded my original expectations. I am currently working with Christianne Ramsey, the art history librarian at the Harold B. Lee Library, and James Swenson, my faculty mentor, to create an educational exhibition in the North Gallery of the HBLL during Fall Semester 2015. The exhibition will have the same title as the project and will feature 10 photographs from Iceland that best exemplify William Morris’s connection to Iceland. With the guidance of my mentor, I am creating text panels to accompany each photograph which will include my own research and direct quotations from Morris’s Icelandic Journals. The goal of this exhibition is to present my research and prove the connection between William Morris and Iceland in a way that is interesting and engaging to a broad audience. Although I still plan to also create a digital and print publication of these photographs and text panels as I originally outlined in my grant proposal, I believe that creating an exhibition is a more effective way to teach others about my project. Also, as I aspire to pursue art history academics and museum work further, curating an exhibition will give me excellent experience. I also plan to submit my project for potential presentation at the 2016 Utah Conference on Undergraduate Research as I believe I have contributed something new to the field of art history in an important and unique way.
In conclusion, my expectations for the impact of my travels on my research project and my ability to share it have been exceeded as I have spent the past several months and continue to invest time working on it. I believe that I can continue to use this experience and the invaluable extensions of my research in further academic and professional work. I also believe that my photographs, and the exhibition and publication I am creating with them, provide original and fascinating insight into the life and ideas of William Morris—an individual whose contribution to the history of art and contemporary philosophies surrounding aesthetics is vital.