In 1946, artist Robert Gibbings (1889-1958) visited his friend John Harris, who was then University Librarian at the University of Otago. Gibbings gave Harris five printed vellum sheets: three of Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales (1929-31) and two of John Keats's Lamia (1928). Both these titles were printed at The Golden Cockerel Press, which Gibbings owned from 1924 to 1933. One of the 'Canterbury' sheets contained an important addition: illustrations executed by Eric Gill (1882-1940), sculptor, stone cutter, engraver, and typographer. This vellum sheet is a small representative of the work that Gibbings and Gill did together, including the collaboration that resulted in The Canterbury Tales, and The Four Gospels (1931), which has been called 'the typographical masterpiece of the 20th century' (John Dreyfus).
Both Gibbings and Gill were sons of clergymen; Gibbings visited New Zealand; Gill's father was born in the South Seas in 1848; both wrote extensively on a wide range of topics; both were members of the Society of Wood Engravers (founded in 1920); both were talented artists; and both were prolific wood-engravers. And importantly for this exhibition, both made and designed books, although at first they were both typographically naïve. Their bookish collaboration lasted from 1925 to 1931.
Both men have had a lasting influence in the artistic world. Gibbings created some outstanding limited edition books through his The Golden Cockerel Press. He also left some marvellously lyrical travelogues on places such as Tahiti and Ireland. Gill's legacy is perhaps more evident. His sculptures are found in institutions throughout the world; his line illustrations are frequently reproduced; and importantly, there are his typefaces such as Perpetua and Gill Sans (the typeface used for this exhibition); the latter often used by modern-day book-makers and designers today.
This exhibition is based on holdings within Special Collections. It is an overview, offering a glimpse into the lives and work of these two gifted artists. Please enjoy.