Our logo is adapted from Study of a Spray of Dead Oak Leaves, an 1879 watercolour by John Ruskin now in the Collection of the Guild of St George at Museums Sheffield. Ruskin – artist, critic, moralist, naturalist and visionary – was a cultural giant of the Victorian age, whose writing and activism vitally inspired the emerging conservation movement in both its historical and ecological strands.
He also, however, held views with which Heritage Declares does not align, such as his justification of colonialism as ‘Imperial Duty’ (1870). Through our critical understanding of these now-discredited Victorian cultural values we can avoid, and help redress, the mistakes of the past.
While not agreeing with all his views, we chose his watercolour for our logo for its reference to his essay ‘On Leaf Beauty’ (from Book V of his magnum opus Modern Painters). This opens with a denouncement of civilisation’s assault on the natural world: ‘How have we ravaged the garden instead of kept it – feeding our war-horses with its flowers, and splintering its trees into spear-shafts!’ The same passage also offers a vision of possible harmony between nature and humankind, in which the ‘infinite wonderfulness [of] vegetation’ takes on a role equivalent to that of architecture, as ‘the means by which the earth becomes the companion of man’. The dead leaves warn of a future in which the companionship of earth and man has terminally withered; as what Ruskin calls a ‘leaf monument’, wherein the rigidity of death holds forth the hope of a new and fuller life.