A new book titled Ernest Gimson: Arts and Crafts Designer and Architect written by Annette Carruthers, Mary Greensted and Barley Roscoe is being published by Yale University Press in October 2019.
Ernest Gimson has been described as ‘the greatest of the English artist-craftsmen’ (Pevsner 1960) and was a central figure in the British Arts and Crafts Movement. He died aged 54 on 12 August 1919 so it’s appropriate that this book will appear in his centenary year. Based on extensive new research from original sources, written by experienced authors and illustrated with many unpublished images and superb new photographs by James Brittain, it will fill a major gap in the field of Arts and Crafts studies and is expected to become the standard work on Gimson.
The book is divided into two sections: the first looks in detail at Gimson’s life, the development of his approach to his work, his contacts and his influences. Trained as an architect in his home town of Leicester, Gimson worked in London in the 1880s, joining the circle around William Morris and Philip Webb at the Art Workers’ Guild and in the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings. In 1893 he moved with friends and fellow architects, Ernest and Sidney Barnsley, to live and work in a radically different way deep in the Cotswold countryside. There he practised as an architect, made modeled plasterwork and set up workshops for the production of furniture and metalwork, rapidly establishing a reputation for both his distinctive style of design and the superb quality of making by his assistants.
Gimson’s architectural projects, the making of furniture, metalwork and plasterwork, and his designs for the embroideries and bookbindings executed by his female relatives are described and analysed in detail in the second section. The final chapter discusses Gimson’s influence in Britain and overseas and his continuing relevance to debates about the role of craft in the modern world.
Finally a list of Gimson’s major works brings together newly researched and existing information.
We would love to have you join us and share our enthusiasm for this history – and the continuation – of this extraordinary Movement and group of architects, designers, philosophers and urban planners. For more information, visit the official Gimson and the Barnsleys tour page and join us on this wonderful tour
The Arts and Crafts Movement was a deeply serious philosophical, practical and committed response to the industrialization of England, its ‘green and pleasant land’ in danger of being blackened by the ever burgeoning factories and the movement of the rural population to the sprawling, insanitary slums surrounding the industrial cities, epitomized by Charles Dickens’s Coketown in Hard Times. Nonetheless William Morris and his friends still found time to enjoy friendship and the joys of life, and perhaps never more so than around Christmas.
Indeed, the Art Workers’ Guild of which he was Master in 1892, has a long tradition of mounting Revels and other such communal expressions of enjoyment. The most famous of these is Beauty’s Awakening, which was performed in London’s Guild Hall in 1899 with most of the great names – Ashbee, Walter Crane, Christopher Whall, Harrison Townsend, etc – either taking part or contributing to the script, with music specially arranged and performed by Arnold Dolmetsch.
Alan Crawford in his great monograph on Ashbee describes Beauty’s Awakening thus: ‘This curious extravaganza had started in a small way, at a meeting of the Art Workers Guild on ‘Masques and Pageants’ in April 1897; but it grew, slowly at first, and then uncontrollably. The architects, painters, sculptors and craftsmen of the guild versified, argued, rehearsed and argued again; lavished disproportionate care on the stage and its furniture; drove their womenfolk to extraordinary lengths of patient needlework; and produced a gorgeous and ephemeral spectacle, the event of the Arts and Crafts Movement, a demonstration of its various talents and of its blessed irrelevance. Somehow the time was ripe. It was to be formal, like the old masques, design, pageantry, allegory, but not an antiquarian revival, for there was a symbolic and processional strain in the Arts and Crafts which found a welcome expression in the masque: it was as if their allegorical figures had stepped out of the picture frames, down from the sculpted friezes, and now enjoyed the extra freedom of verse, music and dance. And, being the Arts and Crafts, it was didactic, an allegory of London and the artists’ hope for their city, touching and specific.’
The masque nearly bankrupted the Guild and nothing as ambitious has ever been performed again, but a few years ago, when Glynn Boyd-Hart was Master, we had a glorious pantomime with costumes by Brother Madeleine Dinkel, and a splendid performance by a yodeling cow!
The spirit of irreverence lives on and long may it continue to do so, and not just at Christmas. Ashbee recalled one occasion when the Guild was expecting a lecture from William Morris he read them a chapter of Brer Rabbit instead!