A CHALLENGE FOR YOU POETRY FANS OR ERIC GILL AFICIONADOS
As the fall 2010 semester comes to a close, our first visiting Mellon scholar, Dennis Doordan is wrapping up his research here, soon to be heading back North to Notre Dame, Indiana in time to wrap his holiday gifts. Professor Doordan has been sifting through our extensive holdings of artwork produced by or associated with Eric Gill (1882-1940), The Guild of St. Joseph and St. Dominic at Ditchling that Gill founded, and works produced by other English guilds of the era. (See also my earlier post) Gill led a very productive life as a renowned sculptor, engraver, typographer, stone-cutter and monumental mason. Our museum library holds a very decent body of books and other printed ephemeral materials produced and illustrated by this important English designer.
Although describing Gill as an eccentric would be an incredible understatement—as Fiona MacCarthy’s biography, Eric Gill: A Lover’s Quest For Art And God (1989) makes clear—this Catholic convert was a deeply spiritual man who saw no contradiction in mingling religious and erotic themes—or in transgressing the bounds of normative sexual behavior. (See also a virtual display of some of his religious/erotic work in the Wolfsonian library collection)
Gill nevertheless continues to be recognized as one of England’s most important and influential modernist designers and thinkers. Gill struggled to remain true to the ideals of producing well-made, beautiful, quality artwork even as he came to grips with the realization that Arts & Crafts handicraft production would never be able to fend off the advances of industrialization forever.
As Professor Doordan noted during his parting lecture delivered to the Wolfsonian staff, Gill also printed essays criticizing the adoption of trousers, gendered attire, and clothing off the rack; he also consciously dressed—and projected an image of himself—as a craftsman of a by-gone era.
Ultimately Gill recognized the need to live and work in both worlds as was attested to by his own typographic collaboration and intimate association with Beatrice Warde and her Monotype printing corporation.
One of the items that caught Professor Doordan’s eye during his research visit was the broadside or small format poster included below. Although it is signed “Eric g,” it is not listed in the most comprehensive catalogue of his engraved work by John Physick. Consequently, I am throwing this mystery out to all the amateur sleuths online. Find us something to help us date, document, and authenticate this attribution if you can. We’ve had no luck thus far definitively identifying the piece or even the unsigned poem printed on it: “When the king comes down the street.”