Islander channels fascination with Victorian era into her art and books
If Rosa Morgan invites someone to her island home for a drink, it probably would be for tea. In fact, she likely would serve herbal or English tea from an antique teapot similar to those used during Victorian times.
Morgan, who lives in a 19th-century Victorian home in Galveston, always has been fascinated with that time period and has studied it as the background for the two historical fiction books she has authored, she said.
The Victorian era refers to the reign of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from June 1837 until her death in January 1901.
“Everything takes place in this house,” Morgan said. “I study newspapers, census data and other information I can gather. I’m always reading and researching. I learned about this neighborhood and who lived here and I put them in my books.”
Her books, “The Herbalist’s Apprentice” and “Between Wind and Water: 1898 Galveston” are semi-autobiographical, although she didn’t live during that time period. But the characters and their struggles mirror challenges with which she is familiar, she said.
Growing up in Houston, Morgan was interested in the stately homes in the Houston Heights with their gables and gingerbread and she always wanted to live in an old, restored house in Galveston, she said. She moved to the island for the architecture, she said.
“I like the details about the Victorian era,” she said. “I think it was a more thoughtful time, perhaps more genteel but not in a hoity-toity way.”
History always has found its way into her work and her life, she said. Morgan has researched her own family and learned that her great-great-great uncles Wilson and William Lightfoot fought in the Battle of San Jacinto — a decisive battle of the Texas Revolution — and at the Alamo.
Morgan’s stories feature women seeking enlightenment and facing a turning point in their lives, much like she was after the death of her husband in 2015, she said. Two years later, her best friend died and then, in 2018, her eldest son, Oliver, died at age 33 from a heart-breaking drug overdose, she said.
In her grieving, Morgan turned to writing, and soon afterward picked up a blank journal on her way to Europe for an extended vacation to gather her thoughts, she said. Rather than write, she began drawing with pen and ink, capturing details of buildings, gardens, statues, monuments, flowers and assorted other still-life objects. Her freehand art is whimsical and monochrome — only black ink on white paper.
“If I mess up, I just keep on going,” she said. “I think that is a good philosophy for life — just keep going,” she said, noting that she has trained her eye to see minuscule details she includes in drawings. Before she taught herself to draw, she had no specific style to her art, she said. But she kept experimenting and learned more about her art and method and was surprised her drawings were well-received, she said.
“I was shocked people liked my art,”
Morgan collected many of her drawings and published another book, “Anatomy of a Victorian.” Some of the pictures are accompanied by a short poem or brief story, which gave context to the drawings.
Some of the drawings were difficult — drawing the University of Texas Medical Branch’s “Old Red” building in Galveston was scary because of the detail, she said.
“But I believe you must let go of fear because it is crippling,” she said. “Instead, when I am afraid, I go toward the fear. I love the creative process.”
Aspiring artists shouldn’t be afraid or inhibited when they create, she said.
“Be free enough to create like a child,” she said. “And do it for yourself, and not to be judged. I write for myself. I write and let it flow. The real work is in the editing, although with my art and drawings, there is no editing. It is what it is.”
She recently teamed with her partner, artist Ed Gearke, and they published another book of his art and her poetry, called “Alchemy: A Path of Transmutation.” They describe the book as “a tribute to the mercurial magic of their loving friendship.”
Morgan continues to write and draw and is at peace, she said. She likes happy endings, so she ends her books on a positive note, she said.
After the deaths, Morgan felt no joy, she said. But through cognitive behavioral therapy at the University of Texas Medical Branch, she feels happiness again, she said.
“I have emerged happy and healthy,” she said. “Creativity is important for the healing.”
Living in her 1896 Victorian house brings even more joy, she said.
“I think Galveston has a spell on everyone who comes here,” she said. “It allows you to reinvent yourself.”