Remembering designer 100 years on from his final work
ONE hundred years ago this week, one of the most important – but least known – designers and architects of the Arts and Crafts movement died.
Ernest Gimson had lived in or near Sapperton, near Cirencester, since 1893 when he and friends, Ernest and Sidney Barnsley moved from London and Birmingham to set up house and shop in the Cotswolds.
Gimson was only 54 when he died after a relatively short illness.
He had a list of buildings to his name, as well as setting up a successful furniture workshop and metalworking shop.
Some of his last letters show he planned to do much more and was looking to develop a larger craft community in the area.
There is a fair amount of his work in public collections.
Leicester Museum (his home town) and The Wilson in Cheltenham hold collections of the furniture, metalwork, plaster and embroidery he designed.
The Wilson is fortunate enough to hold his archive from the sketchbooks of his youth in the 1880s and his photographic collection – his equivalent of all the reference material we have on the internet – to designs for his work and architectural commissions.
Gimson loved Sapperton. As a young man he had enjoyed living in London, but the longer he spent in the country the more he came to dread going up to the capital.
The memorial volume created after his death by his friends WR Lethaby, architect and principal of the Central School of Arts and Crafts (now part of Central St Martins, London), etcher FL Griggs and artist Alfred Powell records how on his last visit to London to see the specialist: “He alone could smile – because he was not to stay in London, but could return to the country and his home for those last days.”
In the collections at The Wilson there is a coffer made by Gimson’s workforce in about 1910 with unfinished decoration in gesso, a kind of plaster.
We know it was in his bedroom some years after his death.
Gimson was mainly a designer but plasterwork was the exception.
He created that himself, roping in his wife and assistant to help with the messy work.
His last design was for the First World War memorial at Fairford, overseen after his death by his assistant, the architect Norman Jewson.
His friend Lethaby said in his obituary: “Of all the men in my generation I might learn from him the most.”
For Gimson, as another obituary says, ‘true work was the noblest manifestation of life’, and ‘the beautiful things he made were the exact expression of his own enthusiastic personality’.
On Monday, the anniversary of his death, a contingent of admirers led by Gimson expert Mary Greensted, went to Sapperton to pay their respects at his grave, which was festooned with the kind of flowers he would have loved – wildflowers from cottage gardens.
A glass or two were raised in his honour at The Bell, Sapperton’s pub 100 years ago and now.
The museum is celebrating Gimson’s design process through our Summer Residency programme.
Designer Katy Welsh is working alongside Gimson’s designs and work.
Come and meet her on August 22 and 23 or come and explore the exhibition until August 25.
Mary Greensted, Annette Carruthers and Barley Roscoe’s new book on Gimson is out in October and will be available at the museum.
In November, a comprehensive exhibition Ernest Gimson: Observation, Imagination and Making will be opening.
Ernest Gimson’s grave at Sapperton on the centenary of his death