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Arthur Eric Rowton Gill (1882-1940)

Biography of English sculptor, typeface designer, stonecutter and printmaker Arthur Eric Rowton Gill (1882-1940)

Arthur Eric Rowton Gill (1882-1940) was an English sculptor, typeface designer, stonecutter and printmaker. He is a controversial figure who held strong religious views juxtaposed with questionable and dark sexual practice and the subject matter of his work often explored and depicted the erotic and taboo.

Gill was born in 1882 in Steyning, Sussex, and grew up in the Brighton suburb of Preston Park. He was the elder brother of the artist MacDonald "Max" Gill (1884–1947), himself a leading figure in the Arts and Crafts Movement.

In 1897, the family moved to Chichester where he studied at the Technical and Art School, and in 1900 Gill moved to London to train as an architect with the practice of WD Caroe, specialists in ecclesiastical architecture.

Gill took evening classes in stonemasonry at Westminster Technical Institute and in calligraphy at the Central School of Arts and Crafts, where Edward Johnston, creator of the London Underground typeface, became a strong influence. In 1903, Gill gave up his architectural training to become a calligrapher, letter-cutter and monumental mason.

One of Gill's first independent lettering projects was creating an alphabet for WH Smith's sign painters. In 1925, he designed the Perpetua typeface, with the uppercase based upon monumental Roman inscriptions. He designed the Gill Sans typeface in 1927–30, based on sans-serif lettering, originally designed for the London Underground.

In the period 1930–31, Gill designed the typeface Joanna, which he used to hand-set his book An Essay on Typography.

In 1904, Gill married Ethel Hester Moore (1878–1961), with whom he had three daughters and an adopted son. In 1907, Gill moved with his family to ‘Sopers’, a house in the village of Ditchling in Sussex, which would later become the centre of an artists' community inspired by Gill. Much of his work and memorabilia is on display at the recently restored Ditchling Museum of Art & Craft.

In 1913, Gill moved to Hopkin's Crank at Ditchling Common. The Common was an Arts and Crafts community focused around a chapel, with an emphasis on manual labour in opposition to modern 20th Century commerce. He became a Roman Catholic in 1913 and worked primarily for Catholic clients, started a lay religious order with his wife and others called The Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic and began wearing a girdle of chastity under a habit. His personal diaries describe his sexual activity, a little known aspect of Gill's life until publication of the 1989 biography by Fiona MacCarthy.

Gill died of lung cancer in 1940 and was buried in Speen churchyard in the Chilterns, near Princes Risborough, the village where his last artistic community had practised.

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