Re­mem­ber­ing de­signer 100 years on from his fi­nal work

Gloucestershire Echo - - NOSTALGIA -

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.

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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

Ernest Gim­son’s grave at Sap­per­ton on the cen­te­nary of his death

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