During 29 April – 3 September 2017, Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft held an exhibition asking visitors a challenging question: does the knowledge of Gill’s disturbing biography affects our enjoyment and appreciation of his depiction of the human figure? The exhibition was the result of two years of engagement amongst the staff, trustees and colleagues outside the institution in a difficult and at times emotional process of deciding how to present and interpret the work of Eric Gill – an artist central to the museum’s narrative and whose importance to art and design history in the UK and around the world is impossible to ignore, but whose diaries record that he sexually abused his daughters as well as other disturbing sexual acts.
Co-curated by Cathie Pilkington, Royal Academician and Professor of Sculpture of the Royal Academy Schools, Eric Gill:The Body featured over 80 works on loan from public and private collections including a major sculpture and drawings that had never been publicly exhibited.
This exhibition was just the beginning of the museum’s process of taking a more open and honest position with the visitor and the organization already has legacy plans in place including ensuring there will continue to be public acknowledgement of the abuse within the museum’s display.
The museum appointed two writers, Alison MacLeod and Bethan Roberts, to creatively capture and interpret responses to the Eric Gill:The Body exhibition and the difficult themes it addressed. Each writer could decide how they wanted to research their stories and whether to use visitor responses, collected by Front of House staff and responses made on comment cards to questions posed by the museum.
The two pieces of work have now been completed: ‘Portrait: Eric Gill Dreaming‘ by Alison MacLeod has been recorded by actress Indira Varma for BBC Radio 4 and will be broadcast on Friday 19 January at 3.45pm. The repeat is at 12.31am on Sunday 21 January. In the meantime, an extract is available to download via the link below, and the full version will be released after broadcast.
The full version of ‘Gospels‘ by Bethan Roberts is available to download via the link below.
Art can help us to tackle difficult issues in new and engaging ways. The project will provide visitors with a different and potentially more accessible route into the key question of understanding how our knowledge of Gill’s private life affects our understanding and appreciation of his work.
The catalogue accompanying the exhibition is also available to purchase via our online shop.