Sunderland student’s artwork to be part of restoration at the birthplace of English history

Sophia Pearson at work
Sophia Pearson at work
Have your say

Arty Sunderland University student Sophia Pearson is set to make a little piece of history at the place where England was born.

The MA illustration and design student has won a national competition as part of the restoration of All Saints Church in Kingston-upon-Thames – the site where seven Anglo-Saxon kings are believed to have been crowned more than 1,000 years ago, and which is considered to be where English history began.

A detail of Sophia Pearson's work.

A detail of Sophia Pearson's work.

The Where England Began heritage project brief was to design panels illustrating the kings’ lives, to be converted to embroidery or tapestry and displayed on seven arched panel spaces in the church for generations to come.

Sophia, 22, from Sunderland, drew on her passion for art and design, as well as her history degree from Cambridge, to create a striking design of Ethelred the Unready, which caught the judges’ eye.

She said: “I was thrilled to have won this competition, and it’s going to be really exciting to see the designs translated into a piece of textile art, which will be on permanent display.

“I wonder what Ethelred would have made of it all, though. I particularly enjoyed the research element. I found a lot of interesting historical details that I wanted to include, but also there are gaps in the history.

I was thrilled to have won this competition, and it’s going to be really exciting to see the designs translated into a piece of textile art which will be on permanent display.

Sophia Pearson

“The only way to resolve these gaps within an illustration is through imagination, which I found exciting.

“I went into a lot of depth, analysing medieval chronicles to find out important details and overall themes. Then it was a case of distilling the information to convey each king’s story in a single image.”

Sophia is now working up the remaining six sketches into final designs using inks, acrylic paint, and charcoal.

Her winning entry featured an image of Ethelred the Unready with waves crashing over his shoulders, to symbolise the constant attack by Vikings, which defined his reign; his cloak, resembling the east coast of Britain, burns, while his outstretched hand pours away money, illustrating his repeated attempts to buy off the invaders.

Sophia will receive a prize of £2,000, to be awarded at a launch of the designs this year.

The Rev Jonathan Wilkes, Rector at All Saints, said: “Sophia showed a sensitive flare for interpreting the various stories that the seven kings represent, and for presenting them in a way that will blend well with this magnificent historic building.

“The project to set in embroidery or tapestry the interpretive images that Sophia has designed is part of that heritage interpretation work. We hope it will have an element of community involvement in the production and it is our great hope that they will be a striking element, making for a crowning glory to what has already been an extremely well received redevelopment.”

Alison Barratt, senior lecturer and programme leader for BA (Hons) Illustration and Design and MA Illustration, said: “I’m delighted the work of such a talented and motivated student as Sophia has been recognised at a national level.

“The competition subject matter was a perfect platform for her deep interest in history, her research skills and her ability to use new knowledge to create not just one but seven stunning and lyrical illustrations, each one telling a richly woven story of a Saxon king. It’s such a pleasure to teach Sophia.

“Many congratulations to an excellent student who will contribute greatly to her chosen field of work.”