Son of a non-conformist minister, one of twelve children, Eric Gill was born in Brighton in 1882 and brought up in Chichester,
where he attended art school and learned the rudiments of drawing. At the age of eighteen he went to London to work in an
architect's office. The Arts and Crafts movement, then in its first flowering, offered an exciting alternative to the "wage
slavery" of the office as well as the opportunity to make his living independently. Instead of studying architecture in the
evenings, Gill learned the art of carving inscriptions in stone, attending masonry classes at Westminster Technical School
& lettering courses at the Central School of Arts and Crafts. His teacher at the Central School was Edward Johnston, an expert
calligrapher and an eloquent proponent of Arts and Crafts techniques. By 1904 Gill was self-employed, supporting himself and
his wife by carving lettering on public buildings as well as tombstones & memorial tablets for private clients.
At this time, Gill's interest in art, religion, and politics were developing in diverse, often contradictory directions. His
first experiments in sculpture won the approval of influential artists and critics who admired the primitive vigor of his
work and also its technical polish, a combination that prompted flattering comparisons with archaic sculpture on one hand
and the newly fashionable Post-Impressionist art on the other. Gill never quite renounced his heritage in the Arts and Crafts
or the patronage of the London art world, but he adamantly refused to be identified simply as a craftsman or an artist. He
dabbled in socialism, attended meetings of the Fabian Society, and spoke vociferously against the factory system. But he soon
wearied of the discipline and obligations of political action, left London, and joined a community of craftsmen in Ditchling,
Sussex. While at Ditchling, he and his wife converted to Catholicism and founded there a reconstituted religious community
linked with the Dominican order, the Guild of SS. Joseph and Dominic. Sculpture continued to occupy Gill during the Ditchling
period (1907-1924) - perhaps most importantly the Stations of the Cross at Westminster Cathedral and the War Memorial at Leeds
University - but at the same time Gill mastered other skills and developed other sources of income. His lettering was in great
demand not just for stone inscriptions, but also for painted signs and printing, particularly buildings, title pages, and
chapter headings. Characteristically, Gill learned wood engraving to have better control over how his lettering was printed.
He also began to experiment with printmaking and book illustration, trying his hand at the handpress and learning the first
principles of typography and composition.
In 1924 Gill moved his family and studio to a deserted, half-ruined monastery in South Wales. The monastery of Capel-y-ffin
provided a perfect setting for Gill to build his ideal religious community without unwelcome publicity or intrusions from
the outside world. He found a new market for his wood engravings in the Golden Cockerel Press. Increasingly intrigued by typography
and its possibilities for independent self-expression, Gill not only catered to book collectors and bibliophiles but also
to trade printers through the Monotype Corporation, which commissioned from him a series of distinguished typefaces. As his
fame and business grew, so did the demands on his facilities, time, and energy. Gill brought his family closer to London in
1928, settling at Pigotts, near High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire.
In 1929 Gill reached the highpoint of his career: several major monographs appeared on his sculpture; a complete collection
of his engravings was published in a lavishly printed limited edition; and a selection of his polemical essays was printed
at his own press inaugurating a typeface of his own design. Within a year he suffered a breakdown from overwork. Although
he never fully recovered, he remained formidably busy during the rest of his life. He designed and built a church, carved
massive public sculptures for the BBC headquarters and of the London Underground, as well as huge panels for the League of
Nations building in Geneva. Along with these prestigious commissions came more honors: he was elected an Honorary Associate
of the Institute of British Architects, and Associate of the Royal Academy, and one of the first Royal Designers for Industry.
Despite failing health, he wrote his Autobiography during 1940 and kept hard at work to the very end. translation of the Psalms,
kept up his accounts, and wrote the last entries in his voluminous diaries. He died on November 17, 1940 at the age of fifty-eight
after an unsuccessful operation.
When he died, he left behind more than a thousand engravings; at least one hundred and fifty books with his illustrations;
designs for eleven different typefaces; and countless sculptures and inscriptions on city buildings, Catholic churches, and
public squares throughout England.