Women art workers and the Arts and Crafts movement – Q&A with Zoë Thomas

Posted by Rebecca Mortimer - Wednesday, 3 Jun 2020


How would you like someone who has read your book to sum it up in one sentence?

Women in the Arts and Crafts movement were significantly involved in shaping the art and culture of their time and their lives offer a thought-provoking alternative model of artistic creativity to reflect upon today, a moment obsessed with individual, ‘exceptional’, artistic names.

What book in your field has inspired you the most?

Jane Hamlett’s Material Relations: Domestic Interiors and Middle-Class Families in England, 1850-1910 made me really want to do a PhD – thankfully they became my PhD supervisor!

Did your research take you to any unexpected places?

The most unexpected place I ended up was climbing into an attic with a torch in a private house in the suburbs of Birmingham. I had made contact with a kind family member of one of the artists I was researching and they invited me to go have a look in their attic. They hadn’t been up there in years but I found shoeboxes filled with diaries and letters which ended up shaping my book considerably.

Which writing process do you use (computer, longhand, dictate, other)?

Always computer for writing, although I make copious rough notes by hand beforehand.

Why did you choose to publish with MUP?

MUP have published many of my favourite academic books (see Material Relations for instance), and the Gender in History series seemed like the perfect ‘home’ for my research.

What are you working on now?

I am working on my second book, about the history of romantically-attached couples who collaborated in their work. I got the idea for this when writing Women Art Workers, as I saw how many of the women artists I was writing about had chosen to marry men in the arts.

If you could go back and give yourself once piece of advice when starting out on this project, what would it be?

Write the book that you want to write. A wise friend told me this towards the end, but I wish I had had this thought more firmly in my head from the beginning as it has shaped my approach ever since.

If you could have been the author of any book, what would it be and why?

Anything by Antoinette Burton.

What other genres do you enjoy reading?

Any novel set in the late nineteenth century is guaranteed to get me interested.

Which authors (academic and not) would you invite to a dinner party?

Can I go back in time? I would have adored to have attended a dinner party (or an ‘At Home’) with ‘New Women’ writers in fin-de-siècle London…









Women art workers and the Arts and Crafts movement is available now and you can read a sample chapter here.

Zoë Thomas is Lecturer in Nineteenth-Century Britain and the Wider World at the University of Birmingham.



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