Ernest Gimson – English Furniture Designer

Posted on 28th March 2011 in English Furniture Designers

Born in Leicester, England on December 21, 1864 Ernest Gimson became known as one of the most influential designers of the English Arts and Crafts movement in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. First studying under Isaac Barradale and then John Dando Sedding a recommendation by William Morris, leader of the Arts and Crafts revival in Victorian England; Gimson first began to develop his interest in craft techniques. Bringing nature into the design process is integral in providing textures and surfaces, flora and fauna and a more direct connection between architect and the construction of the building. While he was working at Sedding’s studio, le learned both chair making and plasterwork.

Joining Morris’s the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings in 1989, he founded Kenton and Co. with several other designers, Sidney Barnsley, Alfred Hoare Powell, W.R. Lethaby, Mervyn Macartney, Col. Mallet and Reginald Blomfield in 1890. Here they followed the teachings of Philip Webb, searching for creative easy to articulate “the common facts of traditional building” through furniture design.

This company was short lived. One of his earliest architectural commissions included the Inglewood House  (1892). His style of architecture has been described as “solid and lasting as the pyramids…yet gracious and homelike” (H. Wilson, 1899).

Moving with the Barnsley brothers to a rural area in Gloucestershire in 1893 under the patronage of the Bathurst family, they eventually set up a small furniture workshop in Cirencester in 1900. It was during this time that he designed The White House (1898) and his own cottage, The Leasowes (1903). Eventually he moved to a larger furniture workshop at Daneway House, a small medieval manor house in Sapperton . Following his original teachings of designing integrating nature, he used cob (rammed earth) at Budleigh Salterton, Devon.

Living in Sapperton he became more community minded and became involved in revitalizing the village. Successful, he planned to found a Utopian craft village. In 1908, he entered his original project in town planning for the city that was to become Canberra, in the design competition, “Design for the Federal Capital of Australia”. During this time he also deigned furniture that was made by Peter van der Waals his chief cabinet-maker who joined whim in 1901. The Memorial Library was his last significant project built in 1919. He remained at Daneway House until his death on August 12, 1919. After his death his workshop was closed with Peter van der Waals moving to Chalford.

Furniture and craft work by Ernest Gimson is on display in England at the Leicester Museum and Art Gallery and in Gloucestershire at the Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum, Rodmarton Manor and Owlpen Manor. Described by William Lethaby as an idealist individualist, “Work not words, things not designs, life not rewards were his aims.” “His originality arose in stimulating himself by a study of old work considered not as mere forms, facts, and dates, but as ideas, as humanity, as delight.”

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