Amy Sawyer

1863 – 1945

Amy Sawyer was born in East Grinstead, Sussex in 1863. She studied portraiture and illustration at the Herkomer Art School, in Bushey in Hertfordshire, and then went on to show at the Royal Academy and at the Paris Salon between 1887 and 1909. Her subject matter is rich in narrative and owes much to her training in the art of illustration.

Rather eccentric in her manner and dress, Sawyer moved to Ditchling in 1897 and lived to the north of the village, where she made her artistic mark by painting her house bright blue. From 1911 Eric Gill and his wife were friends with Sawyer; his diaries are full of entries of tea with Sawyer and visits to his studio. These though seem to have come to an abrupt end in 1913 when the Gill’s moved up to Ditchling Common.

Sawyer’s career as a painter was curtailed when lead poisoning affected her hand. However, she did teach art in the village; Joanna and Hilary Bourne were two of her pupils, together with John Wells who went on to become a major British constructivist artist based, in Cornwall. Looking for a creative outlet she later wrote and produced plays in the Sussex dialect, culminating in a book entitled ‘Sussex Village Plays’ in 1934.