Last Thursday, the River & Rowing Museum opened the doors to its brand new exhibition – ‘An Earthly Paradise: William Morris & The Thames’. This unique and vibrant exhibition brings together an array of Morris’ varied creations alongside his personal affects, exploring the influence of the Thames on his life and work. Despite the impending snow storm, a number of the museum’s supporters were invited to a private viewing on Thursday evening to celebrate the wonderful new exhibit.
The display was collated by Natalie Patel, Head of Collections & Exhibitions, and Sophie Ridley, Assistant Curator. More than just a collection of art, the project’s influence extends beyond its gallery; for the first time, the museum will be offering boat trips with admission so that visitors can experience William Morris’ inspiration first hand. Running during the Easter holidays, the cruises will take museum guests on a dedicated Hobbs launch for an hour-long tour of the Thames. The River & Rowing Museum team have also been working to involve young people and community groups with the new exhibition, providing an opportunity for them to explore Morris’ work and showcase their response to it in the Community Gallery. Moreover, the museum will be offering tailored sessions for schools, encouraging children to engage with the iconic British artist.
Many of the featured items have never been on display before, including a manuscript in which Morris describes a boat trip between his two homes in London and rural Oxfordshire. In his own hand, he recounts being “invaded by swans in Henley”, demonstrating his close connection to the town’s stretch of the Thames. As Natalie Patel said on Thursday, “He would in fact have boated right by where we are standing now, so we are really and truly in the ideal location to celebrate Morris’ connections with the river.”
Sarah Posey, Director of the River & Rowing Museum, said, “This exhibition sheds new life on Morris’ work, and explores his life on the river and the inspiration he drew from it. This has been curated in house and it’s the first display anywhere that has built an understanding of Morris’ designs and writings from this perspective, which we are really proud of. For me this points a way ahead. It demonstrates the kind of shows that we can be developing here at the River & Rowing Museum that offer a really distinctive angle on their subject matter and are inspired by the themes of the collections, this extraordinary building, and this wonderful location.”
Reflecting on the project, Natalie Patel stated, “It’s so very special to bring this exhibition to the River & Rowing Museum, simply because of William Morris’ many and varied connections with the river. It’s been a really hugely enjoyable project for all of our team to bring together these artefacts and textiles relating to William Morris, from his original designs to his dye experiments and personal books, together with our River Thames collection.”
She continued, “We are hugely grateful to all of lenders for their time and support over the past 12 months in helping us to bring this exhibition to life. I’d like to extend our thanks to the British Library, the Hammersmith and Fulham archives, Kelmscott Manor, the Society of Antiquaries of London, the William Morris Gallery, the William Morris Society, our private lenders, the Oxfordshire Angling Preservation Society, and to the Victoria & Albert Museum.”
‘An Earthly Paradise: William Morris & The Thames’ is now open, and will be on display until 14 July at 4pm.