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Landlocked No More

Hi everyone! My name is Morgan Brittain. I’m thrilled to be joining The Mariners’ Museum and Park team as a Graduate Assistant from the William & Mary American Studies PhD program. I’ll be working in the Archives, helping to provide greater online access to our collections, during these unprecedented times of COVID-19 and beyond. Throughout this process, I’ll be blogging a lot, and I hope we’ll get to know each other a bit in the coming months. I look forward to reading and responding to your comments. For today, though, I’d simply like to introduce myself a bit.

Me in 2019 with a cardboard cutout of George Stout at the premiere of the documentary Stout Hearted.

I hail from Iowa, middle (depending on who you ask) of the Midwest. Specifically, I’m from Winterset, a town of 5,000 with Hollywood claims to fame. It’s the birthplace of John Wayne, setting of The Bridges of Madison County (both the film site and the structures themselves), and home town of Monuments Man George Stout (immortalized by George Clooney as Frank Stokes). I loved growing up there for a lot of reasons, but probably most of all for its history, visual richness, and access to the outdoors.

Growing up, fishing was a family pastime–a pastime I hated, though I quickly learned to love being around water even if I found no pleasure in the actual fishing part. I now kayak whenever I get the chance… sans fishing pole.

That love of water has extended to my academic work, as well. My academic background is in art history, and I’ve chosen to do most of my research on waterscape paintings and prints, in large part simply because they appeal to me. I think they also reveal how people interact with one another and with the environment.

I received my MA in art history from the University of Iowa this past spring, where I also did my undergrad. So I spent the better part of eight years in Iowa City, interspersed with time as an intern at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum, a full-time professional job at Cornell College, and a research fellowship at the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa. At the Gilcrease, I was looking at practically unstudied instances of water and watercraft in the work of primarily dry-land artist Charles Russell.

Overall though, I’m thoroughly Midwestern. I love cheese curds and saying “ope” and have a firm belief that ranch is the best condiment. I also spent much of my life to this point landlocked, so I cannot express just how excited I am to have this opportunity with the Mariners’ and to be in a place where I can experience more intimately the types of views I’ve studied in paintings and prints.

Fitz explores the timber around Mariners’ Lake. He found the turtles nearly as captivating as the trees.

I live in Williamsburg with my wife, Sara, and our year-old hound mix Fitz. Fitz is named for seascape painter Fitz Henry Lane, though if you ask Sara it’s for Fitzwilliam Darcy of Jane Austen fame. Sara’s also a graduate student, but in our limited free time we like watching movies (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is one of our favorites), trying craft beers (at their breweries pre-COVID), and hiking with Fitz. Fitz is a big fan of the forests that are around, but much to my dismay he doesn’t yet seem to be very interested in water.

That’s probably more than enough about me. My next post will be about The Naval Review Etchings of James McNeill Whistler, the topic of my MA qualifying paper. I hope you’ll check it out. After that, I’ll be on to writing about collections at the Museum! In the meantime, I welcome your comments, questions, and kayaking and hiking spot recommendations. Be in touch.

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