William and Eve Simmonds, between them : Artist, Carver / Sculptor, Photographer, Embroiderer, Book Illustrator, Marionette Maker and Puppet Master
All of the images here come from the Simmonds' Family Records.
Photographs L - R, T - B :-
1. William Simmonds, 1902 aged 26
2. William Simmonds on the left and Eva on the right
3. William Simmonds workshop at The Frith
4. Eva Simmonds
5. William Simmonds at home, 1941
6. William Simmonds by John Sargeant
7. A drawing of Eve Simmonds, inscribed 'For my friend William Simmonds, homage from William Rothenstein'
8. William Simmonds working on 'Farm Team'
9. Farm Team, 5 feet long and carved in wynch elm, completed 1926
10. Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum Exhibition - 'William and Eve Simmonds', 1980.Catalogue packed with useful information about their work.
11. Five Little Pigs, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1959 and purchased by Lord Astor
12. William Simmonds 'behind the scenes'
13. First Puppet photograph taken at The Greenhouse in Favant Hants in 1913
14. One of the most famous puppet characters, Estelle on the horse, Snowball
15. Marionettes close up
16. 'Trojan' and another from an experimental (never completed?) play by John Drinkwater the Poet
17. One of William's 'character' photographs titled 'Seeds of Love'
18. William Simmonds' fishes in relief on the font at Christchurch, Chalford
19. Paper cuttings and obituaries
Formal Biographical History
William Simmonds was born in Istanbul, where his father was working as an architect, in 1876.
In 1893, after spending four years in his father's architecture office and attending evening classes at Windsor School of Art he began to study painting under Walter Crane at the Royal College of Art. He continued his training between 1899-1904 at the Royal Academy School, where he studied scenery painting, among other subjects. Between 1906-1910 he worked as an assistant to the American painter and illustrator Edwin Austen Abbey working on mural paintings among other commissions.
William married Eve Peart, the embroiderer, in 1912 and they moved from Wiltshire to London in 1914. During the First World War, Simmonds worked as a mechanical draughtsman for Colonel R.E. Crompton in tank design (1914-16) and then for Captain de Haviland in aircraft design (1916–18). It was during this time that he developed his interest in carving, often working with ivory.
In 1919 the Simmonds moved from London to Far Oakridge in the Cotswolds where they set up home and workshop. Here William worked on carvings and sculpture, sometimes painted, of animals and people in stone and wood, and sometimes using marble and alabaster. Eve also appreciated the natural world, and produced embroideries often inspired by the plants in her garden and the surrounding countryside.
His life-long interest in theatricals resurfaced in the 1920's when he made his first puppet for a children's party and he continued, with Eve, to create puppet shows during the 1920's and 1930's. William carved the puppets and painted the scenery, and Eve designed and made the costumes.
Mostly, William wrote the plays, but occasionally other playwrights like their friend John Drinkwater provided scripts. The Simmonds' puppet theatre was one of three established in England at that time, playing an annual season of three weeks at the Grafton Theatre, London and attending special performances at other venues including the Art Workers' Guild and at private parties. Eve provided the musical accompaniment.
During this period three productions were regularly and recurrently performed: The Circus, Harlequinade, and, most celebrated of all, The Woodland with its cast of forest creatures, nymphs and fauns. All these plays portrayed the same world of whimsical fantasy.
Puppet historians have claimed Simmonds as one of the pioneers in the Twentieth-Century puppet theatre revival. However, to consider his marionettes as a mere imaginative resurrection of an entertainment form is to do them less than justice. These puppets are far better understood in the context of the contemporary Arts and Crafts Movement.
The Simmonds were fully integrated into the Cotswolds artistic community, exhibiting regularly in Campden, Painswick and Chelthenham. In 1960 the Simmonds moved to Oakridge Lynch. Forced to give up carving in wood due to arthritis William began pottery classes at Stroud School of Art. There was a retrospective of his work in Cheltenham in 1968 and he continued working up to his death later that year.
Purchases of his works by museums include: Water colour (Chantrey Bequest, 1907), Tate Gallery; Horses Grazing, wood (National Arts Collection Fund, 1925), Leicester Art Gallery; Farm Team, wood (Lewis ‘A’ Fund, 1929), Tate Gallery; Cat, wood, Carlisle Art Gallery, 1936; Old Horse, wood (Chantrey Bequest, 1937), Tate Gallery; Cart Horse Foal, alabaster, Sheffield Art Gallery, 1938; Autumn Calf, painted oak, Cheltenham Art Gallery, 1952; other principal works: Ducks, wood, Charles Rutherston Collection, Manchester; Black Mare, wood lacquered, George Eumorphopoulos Collection; White Calf, marble.
Excerpt from 'Oakridge - A History' :
William Simmonds (1876-1968) & Eve Simmonds (1884-1970)
Eve and William Simmonds came to live in Far Oakridge in 1919. From a pair of almost derelict cottages they created an individual and attractive home and garden, with a thatched workshop housed in a converted barn. They became very much a part of the local community, involved in and supporting local activities - amateur theatricals, singing and puppet shows. Eve made costumes and William trained and directed the actors and painted scenery.
Being involved in the plays was clearly very absorbing and some of the older people in the village who acted in them still have vivid recollections of rehearsals in the thatched barn at the Frith and performances in the village hall.
Geoffrey Dearmer recalled 'Simmonds was a great value to the village. He produced 'The Farmer's Wife' in the schoolhouse at Oakridge with Fred Gardiner as the farmer. I was the parson. I borrowed Mr de Freville, the vicar's, clerical collar for the occasion.' Both William and Eve also gave freely of their time to help other craftspeople and artists locally.
William is remembered as a quiet and patient man who liked to sketch animals in the woods and fields around Oakridge. He was said by Edward Payne to know every horse on neighbouring farms and where animals could be seen in fields and gardens.
One of the local residents remembered the fame gained by her idiosyncratic pet goose, Grizilda, who was a model for one of William's carvings in ivory and ebony that was accepted by the Royal Academy. Another piece exhibited in the RA was a chestnut panel carved in relief of a Gloucestershire wagon-and-horse team.
William worked in many different materials. but especially local woods such as oak, elm. chestnut, pear and hawthorn. The figures of Mary and St John on the screen at Christchurch, Chalford are his and an example of his stone carving can be seen in the relief of fishes on the font there.
Violet Gordon Woodhouse collected some of Simmonds' fine carvings in wood and ivory and Rothenstein dubbed Simmonds 'A Little Master, in the German sense.' The wooden bases for many of Simmonds' carvings were made in Oakridge by the Gardiners.
Eve Simmonds was an embroiderer of note. William Rothenstein spoke of her as 'an exquisite artist, an embroideress and musician. Moreover, she can bake her own bread.'
She made items for, among others, Violet Gordon Woodhouse, Mrs W. Cadbury and Mrs C. Biddulph. For the latter, her work included bonnets on the lines of old cotton sunbonnets. 'I counted that over the years I must have made about sixteen. . . They were always kept in a drawer in her bedroom at Lypiatt . . . The woollen one she always wore going to Bath in the winter.' (Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum catalogue, 1980, including 'Eve Simmonds: a personal account compiled from conversations and letters to Heather and Robin Tanner. 1971'). Eve sometimes worked on projects with Louise Powell who was a close neighbour and friend.
William became very well known for his hand-carved puppets and puppet shows, which in the 1920s and 1930s were in great demand for children's parties all over the country.
Edward Payne described the puppets as combining a wealth of observation and wrote that 'He takes as much pleasure in overcoming the mechanical difficulty of how to put together an old man so that he will walk with his back bent, as he does in his character and the part he shall play in the little dramas. He has created in his puppets a small world of English life.' (Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum catalogue, 1980.)
The Simmonds' puppet theatre was one of three established at this time in England, and they travelled widely. A review in The Times of 13 December 1922 was highly complimentary-' In "Puppets' Holiday" [there is] a puppet-show within a puppet-show ... and you note that the microscopic puppets are as neatly articulated and dance as accurately as the larger ones . . . I have never seen any so well and truly made as these puppets of Mr Simmonds, who has given a new and choice significance to an art of venerable antiquity.'
Shows held in the barn at home made lasting impressions in the village and the stage at Oakridge village hall is said to have been designed (that is made higher than normal) especially to accommodate the puppet theatre. A member of the Gardiner family, whose mother worked for a time as housekeeper for the Simmonds, speaks of her thrill as a child at being allowed to hold and move the puppets. She says that William was remarkable for creating all the different voices for the puppets, and she marvelled at the detailed costumes Eve designed for the puppets and the fact that she played the spinet to accompany the shows. William also constructed a Punch and Judy theatre for the children at Rodmarton Manor.
In 1960 the Simmonds moved to Well Close in Oakridge Lynch, and in his later years William modelled in clay when arthritis made working in wood too difficult.
See Also :
William Simmonds - Puppet Master: http://oakridgecommunityarchives.org/items/show/415
William & Eve Simmonds - The Marionette Makers: http://oakridgecommunityarchives.org/items/show/414
Useful Links :
A collection of his Marionettes are now at Gloucester Folk Museum.
And examples of his carvings and sculpture can be seen at Gloucester City Museum.
The Museum of English Rural Life has in its photograph library an album with several studies taken by Simmonds of local characters.
Member of Royal Society of British Sculptors 1905 Seems to have resigned before 1923.
Member of The Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society 1920 (Circa) - 1946 (Presumed)
Member of Art Workers Guild 2 February 1923 - 1968
Art Workers Guild Annual Reports, 1913-1933 1923, p.12.
Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society: Craft Members at the date of the Fiftieth Anniversary Exhibition at the Royal Academy, November and December 1938 1938 p.2.
Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society: List of Members, September 1932 September 1932
Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society: Members and Craftsmen 1946 (Probable)
Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society: Rules and List of Members, 1920 1920 p.5. Arts and Crafts Society: Catalogue of the Eleventh Exhibition. 1916 p.81, p.83, pp.90-91, p.167, p.174, p.260.
Beauty's Awakening: The Centenary Exhibition of the Art Workers Guild (Royal Pavilion, Art Gallery and Museum, Brighton), 1984 1984 p.60.
Catalogue of British Handicrafts by the Arts and Crafts Society and the Red Rose Guild, 1940 Cat. No. 181, p. 17 - -
Catalogue: Exhibition 20, by the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, held at the Royal Academy, Piccadilly, London, W1 1946 p.44.
England & Wales, Death Index: 1916-2007 2007 Name: William G Simmonds Birth Date: abt 1876 Date of Registration: Jul-Aug-Sep 1968 Age at Death: 92 Registration district: Stroud Inferred County: Gloucestershire Volume: 7b Page: 512
Manchester Art Gallery Collections 2009 (Circa)
Tate online: Art and Artists (previously General Collection) includes information from Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, , vol II
Ten Decades a review of British Taste, 1851-1951. A Festival of Britain Exhibition organised by the Institute of Contemporary Art by arrangement with the Arts Council of Great Britain, 1951 Unpaged.
The Times Digital Archive 1785-1985 2008 The Times, Wednesday, Aug 18, 1897; pg. 4; Issue 35285; col F Science And Art Department. Category: News AND The Times, Thursday, Dec 11, 1902; pg. 10; Issue 36948; col E Royal Academy Schools. Category: News AND The Times, Saturday, Aug 24, 1968; pg. 10; Issue 57338; col F Mr William Simmonds Category: Obituaries Who was Who December 2007 ‘SIMMONDS, William George’,
Who Was Who, A & C Black, 1920–2008; online edn, Oxford University Press, Dec 2007
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, London 1964, II
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