Boston College collection of Eric Gill
- 1896 - 1990
- Majority of material found within 1916 - 1940
Scope and Contents
The Boston College collection of Eric Gill documents his creative process through original drawings, engravings, letterwork, and rubbings. His drawings are studies or preparatory sketches for his printmaking, sculpture, or letterwork. Rubbings likewise are either studies for letterwork or were part of his bas-relief sculpting design process. The collection is heavily focused on Gill's engraving, containing his printing blocks, proofs and limited-edition freestanding prints, and short works by fine print presses St. Dominic's Press and Hague & Gill containing his engravings as illustrations. His letterwork is documented through sketches, font proofs, hand-lettering samples, and two finished plaques, one in plaster and one in stone. Gill's sculpture is the least present in this collection, but is captured in programs and photographs of his sculpture on war memorials, which are included in the series about Gill's work, as well as a few preparatory sketches for works for churches, included with his drawings.
Gill's creative output is supplemented by a small amount of Gill family correspondence, particularly postcards between Gill, his wife, and his children, as well as a few from Stanley Morison of the Monotype Corporation. Some letters from the owner of St. Dominic's Press, H.D.C. Pepler, with other colleagues after Gill's departure from the Guild of St. Jospeph and St. Dominic are also present.
To a lesser degree, the collection also documents work by Gill's artistic peers, and examples of reuse of Gill's illustrations in ephemera after his death.
- Gill, Eric, 1882-1940 (Person)
Restrictions on access
Collection is open for research.
Restrictions on use
These materials are made available for use in research, teaching and private study, pursuant to U.S. Copyright Law. The user must assume full responsibility for any use of the materials, including but not limited to, infringement of copyright and publication rights of reproduced materials. Any materials used for academic research or otherwise should be fully credited with the source. The original authors may retain copyright to the materials.
Arthur Eric Rowton Gill, best known as Eric Gill, was born in Brighton, Sussex on February 22, 1882 to minister Arthur Tidman Gill and light-opera singer (Cicely) Rose King. They moved to Chichester in 1897, where Gill studied at the Chichester Technical and Art School (1897-1900). In 1900, Gill moved to London to study architecture under William Douglas Caröe, taking classes in practical masonry at Westminster Institute and in lettering and illumination at the Central School of Art and Design. He was inspired by calligrapher Edward Johnston. Gill received several commissions for three-dimensional inscriptions in stone, and in 1903 ended his studies with Caröe to pursue his work in lettering under E. S. Prior of the Art Workers’ Guild.
In 1904 Gill married Ethel Hester Morse; they had three daughters (Elizabeth, Petra, and Joanna) and adopted a son (Gordion). He began teaching both letterwork and masonry, and in 1906 was elected to the Arts & Crafts Exhibition Society. Around this time, he traveled to see stoneworking in Rome, Bruges, and Chartres.
In 1907 Gill moved his family to Ditchling, Sussex, where he formed an artistic community and expanded his stonework to include sculpture. The first solo exhibition of Gill's stone carvings was in January 1911 at the Chenil Gallery in Chelsea, followed by inclusion of his pieces in the Second Post-Impressionist Exhibition (1912-1913) at the Grafton Galleries in London. The success of his sculptures on public buildings and World War I memorials in the nineteen-teens and -twenties– including his stations of the Cross for Westminster Cathedral (1914-1918)–is credited with the ensuing English revival of direct-carving stone.
In 1913 Gill and his wife converted to Catholicism, she adopted the name Mary, and they both become lay members of the Dominican Order. Fellow Catholic convert and printer Hilary Douglas Clark Pepler joined Gill’s community at Ditchling and established St. Dominic’s Press (approximately 1916). In collaboration with Pepler and artist Desmond Chute, Gill formalized the Ditchling community into the Guild of St. Joseph and St. Dominic in 1921. Gill contributed extensive illustrations and lettering for many of the St. Dominic Press’s publications.
In 1924, due to a disagreement with Pepler, Gill relocated and established a new Catholic craft community in Capel-y-ffin, a former monastery in the Welsh Black Mountains. While at Capel-y-ffin, Gill began working with Beatrice Warde and Stanley Morison of the Monotype Corporation, designing typefaces that impacted twentieth-century typography: Perpetua, Gill Sans, Joanna, and Solus. He continued to receive commissions for sculptural work, creating The Sleeping Christ (1925), Deposition (1925), and Mankind (1927). Also during this time, he began engraving illustrations for books printed by the Golden Cockerel Press.
Capel-y-ffin's geographic remoteness proved challenging, and in 1928 the Gills moved to Piggots, near High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire. There Gill took on a number of large-scale sculptural jobs, including a series of carvings for the BBC Broadcasting House in London (1931), and the League of Nations building in Geneva (1935-1938). He continued to illustrate for Golden Cockerel Press and established the Hague and Gill Press with his son-in-law René Hague.
Gill authored many books over his lifetime, including: Christianity and Art (1927), Art and a Changing Civilization (1934), Money and Morals (1934), Work and Leisure (1935), The Necessity of Belief (1936), Work and Property (1937), and Eric Gill: Autobiography (1941).
After years of declining health, Gill died from lung cancer in Uxbridge on November 17, 1940. Several of his final works were incomplete at the time of his death and were finished by other artists, including the stations of the cross for St Alban's Church in Oxford and the stone altarpiece for Westminster Cathedral.
Some of Gill’s work was controversial during his lifetime due to political ideology (“Cleansing of the Temple” frieze for University of Leeds) or sexual content within the context of religion (the illustrations for Golden Cockerel Press’s The Song of Songs). Public awareness of Gill's adultery, incest, and sexual abuse of his two eldest daughters raised by Fiona MacCarthy's Eric Gill: A Lover’s Quest for Art and God. (1989), a biography which used his diaries as source material, led to a critical reassessment of Gill’s legacy.
Brady, Elizabeth A. Eric Gill: Twentieth Century Book Designer. New York: The Scarecrow Press, 1962.
"Eric Gill." In Encyclopædia Britannica Online, February 25, 2013. Encyclopædia Britannica (Accessed April 3, 2020).
MacCarthy, Fiona. Eric Gill: A Lover’s Quest for Art and God. New York: Dutton, 1989.
MacCarthy, Fiona. “Gill (Arthur), Eric Rownton,(1822 – 1940)” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 -. Accessed October 3, 2014. https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/33403.
Stuart-Smith, Stephen. “Gill, (Arthur) Eric (Rowton).(b Brighton, Feb 22, 1882; d Harefield, Middx [now in London], Nov 17, 1940)” Grove Art Online, https://doi.org/10.1093/gao/9781884446054.article.T032249
18 Linear Feet (24 containers)
Language of Materials
This collection documents the creative work of twentieth-century English artist Eric Gill, principally through his drawings and engravings. Materials include proofs and limited-edition prints; use of Gill's engravings in fine print cards, pamphlets, and booklets; printing blocks; correspondence for the Gill family as well as Gill's colleague at St. Dominic's Press, H.D.C. Pepler; and a small sampling of works on paper by Gill's peers.
The collection is organized in seven series: I. Artwork; II. Fine print presses; III. Reuse of Gill's artwork; IV. Collected artwork of Gill's peers; V. Correspondence; VI. About Gill and his work, and VII. Belonging to Gill.
Series I. Artwork is further divided into five subseries: A. Drawings; B. Engravings; C. Letter cutting, lettering, and fonts; D. Printing blocks; and E. Rubbings.
Series II. Fine print presses is further divided into three subseries: A. Hague and Gill; B. St. Dominic's Press; and C. Other presses.
Series V. Correspondence is further divided into two subseries: A. Gill family, and B. H.D.C. Pepler.
Because the current accessioning system was not used until January 1986, it is not possible to know exactly the dates of acquisition of materials received before that time. However, notes on vendor description found with the materials at the time of reprocessing in 2023 indicate that many items were purchased by Richard G. O'Brien from multiple sources between 1978-1982 and gifted to John J. Burns Library. Additionally, the engraving "Christmas Card for Mary and Eric Gill" (Physick 896) was a gift of Edward D. Little around 1962.
Book-length published works containing illustrations by Gill as well as journals with articles by or about Gill have been transferred within the Burns Library and can be found in the Boston College Library catalog.
Engravings throughout this collection have been associated with a Physick number, which is frequently used by vendors and scholars to identify Gill's works. These are derived from The Catalogue of the Engraved Work of Eric Gill produced by John Frederick Physick for the Victoria and Albert Museum (Her Majesty's Stationary Office, 1963). In the numerous cases where a Gill print does not contain a title or date, those given by Physick in his catalog have been used.
- Boston College Collection of Eric Gill
- 1896-1990 (bulk 1916-1940)
- Jillaire McMillan (August 2000); revised by Lynn Moulton
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- 2023: Reprocessed, including redescription, transfer of published works to Burns Library cataloging unit, and rehousing for easier use and long-term preservation.