Women of Goldsmiths: Evelyn Gibbs

In celebration of Women’s History Month, Goldsmiths Library’s Special Collections & Archives has been taking time to reflect on positive female characters in Goldsmiths institutional history. A previous post looked at Caroline Graveson, the first in the prestigious post of Women’s Vice-Principal of the Goldsmiths Training Department.

Following in the stead of Graveson and the gains she made for women in the academic institution, Evelyn Gibbs provided a resolute influence for the teacher training department of Goldsmiths College during the difficult period of the Second World War.

Gibbs undertook the study at the City of Art School in her hometown of Liverpool in 1922 before being awarded a scholarship to study at the Royal College of Art (RCA) in London alongside other notables of the period such as Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. It was during her time at the RCA whereupon Gibbs would develop an interest in the craft of engraving.

Gibbs early work was heavily based on the art of carving images into wood, and this is perhaps what first beckoned her to Goldsmiths College, which by then was drawing the attention of the art world for the so called ‘Goldsmiths School’ of engravers, including the future principal Paul Drury. Her adeptness in the fine craft of engraving would lead her to winning the prestigious Prix de Rome Scholarship in 1929, complete with a scholarship which she would put to use in two years of further study of art in Italy.  Her first steps towards academia came after returning to London in 1931 and turning to teaching at a school for handicapped children as a means to support herself. It was this experience that would lead her to write a book on art teaching for children, and featured illustrations by her pupils. The Teaching of Art in Schools (1934) was well received and showcased Gibb’s flair for shaping the learning experience.

Evelyn Gibbs. Image courtesy of Goldsmiths Library Special Collections & Archives.

Evelyn Gibbs.

After demonstrating a natural instinct for teaching others as well as high degrees of artistic talent, Gibbs found herself in demand and Goldsmiths College came calling in 1934. She officially became a teacher-training lecturer at Goldsmiths College. Gibbs settled into Goldsmiths well, and was able to sustain her art practice alongside teaching, and she would make a welcome return to painting. Goldsmiths Art Collection is pleased to hold several artworks by Gibbs, with Spanish Fisherwoman being a prime example of the poignant sophistication she had achieved by then.

Spanish Fisherwoman. Image courtesy of BBC Your Paintings.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Gibbs would follow Goldsmiths College when it was evacuated to the safer landscapes of Nottingham. Not one to be perturbed and disheartened by troublesome things occurring in the world at the time, she found the drive to help found the Midlands Group of Artists in 1943, a collective dedicated to fostering the development of experimental artists in the region. The Midlands Group would be instrumental in the assisting several notable artists, including David Hockney and Bridget Riley, a Goldsmiths alumni and influential woman artist in her own right.

Evelyn Gibbs sadly passed in 1991, though Goldsmiths College is pleased to be able to honour her memory and gains she made for women in both teaching and the art world. We hold several pieces of Evelyn Gibb’s artwork in Goldsmiths Art Collection, including Spanish Fisherwoman, in various locales around the college. The teaching of art in schools is available for loan and viewing in Goldsmiths Library. Here in Special Collections & Archives we hold much material related to Gibbs in the Womens Art Library, including slide files and Pauline Lucas’s Evelyn Gibbs : artist and traveller (2001), a detailed survey of Gibbs’ life and work. Please contact us here or alternatively call on +44(0)20 7717 2295 for more details.

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