New Nottingham Castle exhibition: Evelyn Gibbs – In Peace and Wartime
9 July – 9 October 2016
Nottingham Castle Museum & Art Gallery
Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery will shortly be unveiling an exhibition of work by the celebrated Nottingham artist Evelyn Gibbs centred on her work made in her 20s and during World War II.
The exhibition covers work from her early years at The Royal College of Art in London, then moves to her work in Nottingham after she was evacuated. It also covers the interesting story of the murals she painted for St Martin’s Church in Bilborough and their recent rescue and restoration.
Evelyn Gibbs (1905 – 1991) was a printmaker, painter and educationalist, who held a significant position in the artistic life in Nottingham. She was evacuated from London to Nottingham with her students from Goldsmiths College at the outbreak of the Second World War.
In 1943, during her time in Nottingham, Gibbs founded the Nottingham Regional Designers Group – later renamed the Midland Group of Artists. She remained its guiding force until she returned to London in 1960. On a national scale Gibbs is remembered for her work in art education due to her influential book The Teaching of Art in Schools (1934).
During her years studying at the Royal College of Art, London, and later in Rome, she produced the most delicate etchings and engravings of figures in timeless settings. But in the 1940s, as she was selected as one of the women War Artists charged with recording women’s work on the ‘Homefront’, her style changed in response to the challenges of this difficult time; the gracefulness of the etching needle gives way to the energetic, harsher lines of pen and charcoal as we see strong portrayals of figures dwarfed by the machinery of war. This includes a series of drawings made at Nottingham’s Raleigh bicycle factory, which at the time was temporarily appropriated by the Ministry of Defence for the manufacture of munitions.
In 1945 Evelyn Gibbs married Nottingham solicitor Hugh Willatt, a champion of the arts and key motivator in building Nottingham Playhouse theatre. In 1946 Gibbs painted the murals depicting the Annunciation at St. Martin’s Church, Bilborough. As a consequence of drastic alterations undertaken in 1972 the mural was hidden and thought to have been destroyed. This remained the case until 2009, when a team of electricians working above the Church’s chancel exposed the painted figures, generating great excitement among the community with hopes for a full restoration.
With help from the Heritage Lottery Fund and several church trust grants, it was finally possible to start work on the restoration project in early 2014. Conservation master-builders worked with trainee apprentices from Bilborough to restore the ancient stonework, unblock and re-glaze the east window and install ground source underfloor heating. By September the firm Tobit Curteis Associates was able to begin the conservation and restoration of the mural. In late 2014 the entire project was completed and the vibrant paintings of the Virgin Mary and the Angel Gabriel, set in Bilborough’s own village landscape, could be seen again and celebrated at the Armistice Day service on November 11 2014.
In 2015 St. Martin’s received the prestigious John Betjeman Award for this excellent conservation from the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings (SPAB).
The interpretation and content for Evelyn Gibbs in Peace and Wartime acknowledges the work undertaken by all of the parties involved in this recent and highly successful restoration project at St. Martin’s Church, Bilborough.
Councillor Dave Trimble, Portfolio Holder for Leisure and Culture said: “This is a wonderful opportunity to see work from a highly regarded artist who has very close ties to our city, particularly to Bilborough. There should certainly be a few images that people will recognise, including the Raleigh factory. I would also like to encourage people to visit the Castle and to get involved in the Big Draw fun in October and other activities around exhibitions. With the new annual £7 visitor pass for Nottingham Castle, people can return as many times as they like in a year so can enjoy all the great activities planned for this show and others.”
Photos courtesy of the Estate of Evelyn Gibbs