Eric Gill / The Body

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”The case study of the exhibition Eric Gill: The Body at Ditchling Museum of Arts & Crafts is different from the others in this section. In all the other cases, Index on Censorship got involved because artwork had been removed or cancelled, but in this case we were brought in at the early stage of the museum’s planning of an exhibition that was potentially divisive and controversial.” font_container=”tag:h3|text_align:left” use_theme_fonts=”yes”][vc_column_text]Name of exhibition: Eric Gill: The Body
Artist/s: Eric Gill and Cathy PIlkington, RA
Date: 29/04/17 – 03/09/17
Venue: Ditchling Museum of Art & Craft (DMAC)
Brief description of the exhibition: “Co-curated by Cathie Pilkington, Eric Gill: The Body features over 80 works on loan from public and private collections including a new commission by Cathie Pilkington. Within Gill’s work, the human body is of central importance; the exhibition asked whether knowledge of Gill’s disturbing biography affects our enjoyment and appreciation of his depiction of the human figure.” DMAC Programme[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”106694″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]The Ditchling Museum of Arts & Crafts wanted to use the summer exhibition 2017 as the platform to bring Eric Gill’s history of sexually abusing his teenage daughters centre stage. The case study records the process leading up to the exhibition which offers some interesting insights and positive ways of approaching difficult and sensitive subjects and includes some of the documentation that was produced that could be adapted for use in other situations.  

Central to the planning was the workshop day – ‘Not Turning a Blind Eye’. This produced a lot of very interesting discussion and debate, in particular about the role of the museum as a place for difficult conversations. This has been recorded in detail and can be reached through a link in the case study. At the end there is a range of different responses to how the exhibition was managed, rather than looking at the content of the show, with a reflection from Steph Fuller, the new Director and CEO of Ditchling Museum, on the impact and legacy of the exhibition.[/vc_column_text][vc_custom_heading text=”Why was it challenged?” font_container=”tag:h3|text_align:left” use_theme_fonts=”yes”][vc_column_text]Since the biography of Eric Gill by Fiona McCarthy, published in 1989, revealed that he had sexually abused his teenage daughters, awareness of this aspect of his biography is widespread and has been fully discussed and debated.  In spite of this, DMAC, the museum which is effectively built around the Guild that Gill co-founded and of which he was its most famous protagonist, had not responded to the consequences of this revelation in their collection or their narrative.  When Nathaniel Hepburn came to DMAC as Artistic Director in 2014 he was clear that he found the museum’s failure to take an open stance Gill’s sexual abuse of his daughters was problematic for a number of reasons.

  • Inconsistency: some members of staff were able to talk to visitors about Gill’s disturbing behaviour, others found it difficult;  
  • Inappropriateness: a text panel describing Gill as ‘controversial’, where sexual abuse cannot have any moral ambiguity; a volunteer joking about Gill as a ‘naughty boy’ during a tour, because of an embarrassment or lack of knowledge.
  • Unpreparedness: the museum would not have an answer if a visitor (maybe via social media or TripAdvisor), or the media or any other organisation were to question its moral or ethical standpoint regarding Gill.
  • Self-censorship: there were objects in the collection that were not possible to exhibit because there was not necessary language, or confidence, to engage with the issues which would emerge.
  • Failing in duty: the museums’ failure to provide proper contextual information about a nude of Petra, or a torso of Elizabeth [Gill’s daughters who were also his models], risked visitors’ trust in the museum. Either they visited with prior knowledge and felt DMAC was disingenuous; or they enjoyed Gill’s work and discovered later about his sexual abuse of his daughters, and then felt misled.
  • Complicity: the staff were concerned that the silence could be taken as complicity.  An all woman team with a male director, all bringing different experience, they felt a shared moral imperative to break the silence in relation to behaviour that is perpetuated by non-disclosure.

With difference of opinion across the team and trustees, and knowing how Gill’s continued respect as a major 20th century British artist, in spite of the revelations about his sexual abuse of his daughters, also divides public opinion, it was clear that this project was not going to be about the museum agreeing a place in the debate. It would have to be about the debate itself.  There was a lot at stake. If it was handled clumsily it could cause distress to survivors of abuse, could be sensationalised in the press and risked more reputational damage than the museum’s long silence on the issue. The ongoing stream of revelations exposing the prevalence and scale of sexual abuse of children across society heightened the sensitivity and enormity of the issue, and the risk of getting it wrong. If successfully handled, then DMAC’s openness could send out a positive message across the sector for other museums to be proactive in finding ways of taking on difficult stories and objects within collections to stimulate rather than avoid debate with visitors and the wider public. The aim to create a well-researched space, designed to support dialogue, where all opinion on the issues raised could be held and handled with confidence, required considered discussion and preparation about language, terminology, financial and reputational risk, about relationships with stakeholders, visitor experience, communications, supporting staff and more.  

[/vc_column_text][vc_custom_heading text=”What action was taken?” font_container=”tag:h3|text_align:left” use_theme_fonts=”yes”][vc_column_text]Partnership

Hepburn secured Brighton Festival as a partner early in the process. The festival’s reputation for taking on political issues connected DMAC to wider territory than it could occupy by itself which, by association, helped frame communication with the public. It also acknowledged that the issues DMAC was tackling extend far beyond the museum and its very particular relationship with Gill.


Hepburn commissioned Royal Academician, Sculptor Cathie Pilkington, in partnership with Brighton Festival, to respond to the themes of the exhibition. She took the contentious object known as Petra’s doll, made by Gill for his daughter’s 4th birthday, as the inspiration for her work. Pilkington was considered to be an ideal choice, a strong woman artist engaging with these themes as another way to respond to Gill’s life and work and the collection in the museum as a whole.

Consultation with survivors of abuse

Hepburn spoke very early on about his plans to Peter Saunders, a survivor of abuse and founder of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC).  Saunders became an ally, willing to speak in support of the project to the media. Hepburn had meetings with four charities, to give them advance information about the forthcoming show, why DMAC felt it was important to do it and to ask for advice on language and what kind of responses the work might provoke.  One of the four was not supportive and spoke out against the show to the media.

Workshop with peers

Not Turning a Blind Eye was a carefully structured workshop day bringing together museum professionals, curators, lawyers, journalists, academics to respond to specific objects and artworks in the collection. The workshop took place in October 2016 and was structured around the presentation of contentious pieces in the collection – to discover first-hand what questions and feelings they provoked; and to discuss whether and or how they could be exhibited. Other ethical challenges that the staff encounter on a daily basis were also posed and discussed.  The workshop elicited strong and insightful responses from different disciplines and approaches and voicing clearly articulated positions and options for Hepburn and the staff to consider. A detailed description of the workshop can be found here.

Staff, volunteer and trustee preparation and training

Hepburn brought new trustees on board, sought out individuals and organisations from outside the museum who could share their expertise and experience; the staff took every opportunity to talk amongst themselves, with friends and colleagues. The museum’s approach was characterised by transparency, openly acknowledging and sharing dilemmas, seeking advice, talking to a very wide range of people. There was a lot of training for staff and volunteers with sessions run by charities supporting survivors of abuse. There was preparation for every eventuality and audience response:

  • defacing the artwork, protests, upset, anger, triggers. Front of house staff informed every audience
  • member at point of sale that the the exhibition invited the audience into the debate. There were
  • helplines and support literature for people who could have been adversely affected by the content of the show.


The goal of the exhibition was to generate dialogue with a broad range of constituents – media, general public, visitors, survivors, and stakeholders, with members of the Gill family, family members of the original Guild still living in the village and others. The idea was not to ask permission, but to talk about the planned programme and invite feedback. The decision to involve multiple stakeholders in the planning of the exhibition helped shape the way the artwork would be discussed and showed there was no single answer to the dilemmas that Gill’s story throws up. Arriving at a shared sense of how to talk about the exhibition and to respond to audience questions and reactions was a major area of work. A series of documents were created – here are some examples: Director’s statement; FAQ; Gill terminology; and any complaints were dealt with fully and personally by the director. A series of procedures were created for staff and volunteers to follow in the case of adult or child disclosure and a complaints procedure.

Managing the media

Hepburn made the first mention of his plan in an article Self-censoring Museums Have to Be Braver in the Art Newspaper by Maurice Davies who Hepburn knew would not sensationalise the issue. Though Hepburn has since spoken publicly, lectured and written extensively on the subject, he remembers “agonising” over the words he used to describe the museum’s position

in that first outing. Another important move in the press strategy was to commission Observer columnist and art critic, Rachel Cooke (see extract below) to follow the process from the start. The idea was that the article, published before the opening, would open up museum’s approach, leading to an honest discussion with the public.

Writers in Residence

Two writers in residence were commissioned to respond to the exhibition, bringing additional artistic voice to explore and process the exhibition.  When writer Bethan Roberts saw the exhibition she felt that the voices of the women particularly the daughters in it were missing and in response decided to write Petra’s story. Alison Macleod based her response on  the wide-ranging responses on the audience feedback which ranged from “Disgusted!” and “Elated!”. In response she wrote “something that [is] multi-voiced, multi-perspectival” to get at the complexity of the subject matter.

More information about the writers in residence project, and extracts from the work created can be found here.

Audience feedback

There were 316 comments submitted on the feedback postcards, all of which have been transcribed – a sample of them can be found here. Some visitors praised the DMAC’s handling of the issues: “I believe the exhibitors have struck the right balance: the genius of the artist, and the honesty in depicting his sexual abuse, are both necessary and well represented.  I love the work still, but have no illusions about the artist.” Others condemned it: “Angry at the focus on Gill’s behaviour with no acknowledgement of its impact on the lives of his daughters.” The front of house staff had the most face to face contact with the visitors; many wanted to talk about the show. There were lots of different reactions. “It showed human nature in all its forms. Some said – what’s the fuss? why does it have to be shoved in our face? we’ve known this for years. This is brilliant! One or two wanted more of the survivor story – expecting more from the [survivors] network. Several said it was not shocking enough. One told me ‘I’m survivor of abuse and I was interested to come and see how you were presenting it.’”

A catalogue was produced after the end of the show.

Press coverage Eric Gill: The Body.[/vc_column_text][vc_custom_heading text=”Interviews” font_container=”tag:h3|text_align:left” use_theme_fonts=”yes”][vc_column_text]Index on Censorship carried out a series of interviews with a range of stakeholders including the staff and trustees. Here are some extracts:

Cathie Pilkington, RA – artist, co-curator of Eric Gill: The Body.

There are different kinds of risk to this [commission]. I felt I had to go with that initial intuitive response, my genuine engagement with the doll [carved by Gill for his daughter’s 4th birthday] and with the dilemma. As an artist you have to trust those drives towards things, even though they are risky.  Quite a few people said, don’t do this, don’t put yourself in this dilemma, you are making yourself vulnerable and actually there is part of that you are being used as a resource to mediate something. But I recognised it as well and I knew that I was the right artist to do this regardless of the difficulties that I might have.  I came away [from the workshop] very excited and elated by realising that there was a moral responsibility of the artist to allow these things to happen and for speech to be open. It was exciting to see a real role for art. It as as much about that, as the subject of the abuse and the problems associated with the project.

Alice Purkiss –  leader of Trusted Source Knowledge Transfer Partnership between Oxford’s History Faculty and the National Trust (2016-2018)

They told the story with utmost sensitivity but without censorship and I think that was an important factor.  It wasn’t salacious which it could have been. It wasn’t accusatory. It was quite frank and objective and I was interested in their use of language in the show. A lot of colleagues will see this as an opportunity to see what goes into the process – more will have the confidence to do this themselves.

Andrew Comben – Director of Brighton Festival and board member

Collectively and Nathaniel particularly managed it brilliantly, sensitively thoughtfully and patiently. It felt like a textbook example of how to navigate all this territory.  I am also interested now in hearing that museum professionals see it as a sort of blueprint of how to manage sensitive issues. Embedding a journalist in the process and having someone follow that right from the start so there could be a public conversation and an honest one I thought was very smart. Talking to charities working in the territory, not of the arts world was something all too frequently arts organisation don’t do. [Ref partnership with Brighton Festival] It seems something really obvious and quite straightforward, that maybe organisations don’t have to go it alone when they addressing these sorts of things and there is strength in a collective response.

From Rachel Cooke’s detailed account published in The Observer before the show opened: Eric Gill: can we separate the artist from the abuser?

“Hepburn’s decision to mount Eric Gill: The Body might be thought rather brave – and certainly this is the word I hear repeatedly from those who support his project… But still, I wonder. Is it courageous, or is it merely foolhardy? And what consequences will it have in the longer run both for Gill’s work and those institutions that are its guardians? Is it possible that Hepburn, in fighting his own museum’s “self-censorship”, will start a ripple effect that ultimately will see more censorship elsewhere, rather than less? And once Gill is dispensed with, where do we go next? Where does this leave, say, artists such as Balthus and Hans Bellmer? Even if their private lives were less reprehensible than Gill’s, their work – that of Balthus betrays a fixation on young girls, while Bellmer is best known for his lifesize pubescent dolls – is surely far more unsettling.”

Peter Saunders – NPAC

They were bold in saying that whilst he was an artist and produced works of some significance he also admitted to some extremely nasty crimes against his own children.  I felt positive with their approach. When we are talking about something that goes back quite a long time and there are no living victims of these people, then it is slightly different from dealing with someone who is uncovered as being a current abuser and thereby is likely to have living victims who will still be living with the trauma probably and of what had been done to them by the individuals. It therefore calls for a slightly different approach.  My opinion is that if we were to actually delve into the lives of many people of prominence from the past we would potentially uncover some pretty unpleasant stuff I expect. Does that change the quality or significance of what they contributed to the arts or whatever it was? Or do we ignore it, do we acknowledge it or sweep it under the carpet?

Alison McLeod – writer in residence

There doesn’t seem to be one point of view on it, the more I looked into the more complex it became, and my own point of view is irrelevant in a sense, it’s not even what guides the writing project. Yes, the biography is upsetting disturbing in part and there was clearly a history of abuse that is without question.  But it is made slightly more complex by the fact that the two daughters were abused said they were unembarrassed about it, not angry about it, loved their father, and didn’t give the response that perhaps I’m imagining, or some people expected them to give – to be angry about it and condemn their father’s behaviour. They didn’t.  So maybe they have internalised their trauma, but you could say that that response is almost patronising to the two women, the elderly women who were very clear about what they felt, so it goes into a loop of paradoxes of riddles that you cannot really ever solve.

Nathaniel Hepburn speaking three weeks into the process.

I have underestimated the emotional strain on the team that delivering this project, and continuing to deliver it for the next four months, has caused and will continue to cause and the amount of time needed to hold the team through that process.  We are looking out for each other and that is going to have to continue. Although we have put in place everything that was needed I think it will continue to be an issue for the next four months. That we cannot quite switch off. I am really lucky to have a great, supportive team and that we will be OK.

Staff feedback

So many of the things we [DMAC staff] put into place, structures, approaches which we talked about and rehearsed and gone over and over, language, openness and confidence in being open about it, willingness to engage, not justifying, or defending, or shutting down – all those things – I have seen them played out.

The Founder of NAPAC came to talk to the staff about how someone who had been abused would feel about coming to this show. He told his own story and he had been abused. But actually it was good to have a survivor in the room and to hear the incredibly negative impact it had had.  Although it was hard, it brought people together.

We didn’t give our own opinions; we were being professional. This is what we are doing and we hope we have done it well.  When people knew that it had taken 2 years and we had thought so carefully about it, it helped.

Yes we’ve done it, we’ve done it pretty well and it had to be done and we have put so much in place and so many discussions, such sensitivity about how it was going to be done. Everyone’s voice, concerns and anxieties from members of staff have found a way through into this.

Over the first weekend there were lots of visitors, and positive feedback, good that you’ve done it – rather than beautiful exhibition.  There was discussion going on in the café afterwards. More children than expected. Teenage daughters with their mums. That made me feel proud.  That’s a good conversation to have, brings the abuse out into the open…

It got more difficult as the show went on – he was on the inside and I got really sick of it by the end – it [the end of the show] is a weight lifted off our shoulders.

We have all had to cover for front of house.  It’s exhausting – giving everyone the time and attention they need.  The flippant comments, people trying to make light – that was quite difficult to hear again and again.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to do this – how dare he [Gill] put me in this position every day and think about this, as the mother of a young daughter, but in fact it was very interesting to work.

There was lots of mutual support – helps that it is a small team that gets on.  Individuals checking in on each other – backing each other up – we have all had our moments.

Now that we are getting positive responses and level of engagement is really encouraging I feel much more confident about communicating it.  The biggest concern would be to get people outside and faced with an anger that is difficult to be rational with. It didn’t happen but there could still be a reaction. 3 weeks in – and I’m trying not to be complacent – I am still prepared. The first week was the most intense – but it has dried up for the past couple of weeks.

After this exhibition, and the learning that we have undertaken as a result, we will reflect on how the permanent collection displays can incorporate this information so that the museum does not turn a blind eye to Gill’s more disturbing biography again.

Reflection – Steph Fuller Artistic Director Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft

A few observations, being on the outside and being recruited while the show was on:

I thought it was a good thing for the museum to do; it was important not to hide from issues.  I felt that, within the exhibition, if the public didn’t read all the background material, watch the film and the discussions, they could miss quite a lot of the nuance of what was happening and I thought that was a pity.  People in the museums and galleries business, who did read all of that stuff and listened to it and who knew much more about the process [had one kind of experience]. But I think the visitor experience was a bit partial in the museum.

The real legacy issue, which I am grappling with at the moment, is that the voice that was not in the room, was Petra’s. She was very front and centre as far as Cathie’s commission was concerned, but there is something about how the work conflated Petra with the doll and being a child victim, that I’m a bit uncomfortable about actually. There is lots of evidence of Petra’s views about her experiences, and how she internalised them, that was not present at all anywhere. It is easy to project things on to someone being just a victim and Petra would have completely rejected that.

In terms of legacy how we continue to talk about Gill and his child sexual abuse and other sexual activities which were fairly well outside the mainstream, I think – yes acknowledge it, but also – how?  I am feeling my way round it at the moment. There are plenty of living people, her children and grandchildren who are protective of her, quite reasonably. I need to feel satisfied that when we speak about Petra, we represent her side of it and we don’t just tell it from the point of view of the abuser, to put it bluntly. If it is about Petra, how do we do it in a way that respects her views and her family’s views?

I feel very much it’s a piece of work that is not done. But the thing to do is to start. It’s much better to do something than to do nothing, then expose the next layer of issues which need to be addressed.

In terms of the staff, I think some of the staff were quite damaged by the experience of having to deal with it, and it would have been good if there had been more psychological, emotional support for staff in place. For most people, they accepted that it was difficult, but it was important and everybody got on with it. But it’s really hard to work with it all the time and I am thinking about doing more internal work for staff, and as new staff come in – this is never going away.

It was quite a high risk thing for the museum to do and for a lot of people who had nurtured the museum over a long time there were concerns about if this was the right thing to do, or the right way to do it. I think quite a few of the trustees breathed a deep sigh of relief when it had happened, that it had been OK; the museum had been recognised and applauded for doing it, much more than people who had thrown bricks at it, and that was a result. We have had to talk round a couple of people in the village who said they would never have anything to do with the museum again – and we managed to lure them back in, this is one aspect of what we are about, but we are still the place you are supportive of.

The exhibition absolutely is informing our future thinking around interpretation and how we tell that narrative about Eric Gill and the Guild, and subsequently.  I don’t want it to be the only thing that people ever think about in the context of our content. Gill is very important and an important part of the museum’s story, but there is a huge amount of other stuff and other artists and a much longer history for us. We’ve had a run of shows that have been looking more at women and that’s a sort of balancing act, certainly internally. There is a show coming up when we will be looking at material from our collection. We will need to be some new interpretation and that’s a useful next step, putting in a tangible form the things that have been learned and thought about and mulled over as a result of doing the exhibition.  

At the beginning, I asked myself – what is my position on this? In many ways – I don’t feel it is a black and white thing.  I love Eric Gill’s work, I loved it before we knew that he was a child sex-abuser, obviously I have known that for a very long time, and, having thought about it a lot, I still feel that the work is interesting and valid. I am able to think about the work in a way that is detached from his behaviour, which is very much not acceptable.  Post #MeToo there is a real desire for a binary position: ‘this is wrong’ and therefore everything that has anything to do with it is wrong, and therefore we should whitewash Eric Gill and his work out of our collection, we should never show his work or speak of him again. I think that’s not helpful and makes no sense to remove someone from the narrative, who is really important and influential in art historical and in philosophical terms.  We couldn’t talk about what the museum is about without talking about Eric Gill. It’s not doable.

While I have a critique of the work, I I am not in any way critical of Nathaniel doing the show; I think it was a really great thing Nathaniel did to do and very courageous. It was about moving the narrative into the public space and that was the big step.  It was done in a way that managed it pretty effectively for the museum, although there have been some very negative responses. Overall, the museum has been respected for doing things in the way they did, even by some people who don’t altogether agree with where it landed. I think there are things that could have been handled differently that might have added some extra layers of complexity in some respects, but maybe you can only deal with so much complexity at once. If I had approached this and done it from scratch, I would have done it in a different way and it would have been flawed in another way – there is never a perfect answer.[/vc_column_text][three_column_post title=”Case Studies” full_width_heading=”true” category_id=”15471″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Eric Gill / The Body: Managing risk

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Talking – The curator and I had always been happy having 1-1 conversations with people about the subject, but the idea of talking more broadly was I think terrifying. I knew that we absolutely had to overcome this. I remember when I said that Maurice Davies wanted to talk to me for The Art Newspaper about self censorship. I knew him and trusted him, he wasn’t a journalist, but I think we were both nervous although I didn’t falter that we would take this opportunity to talk about the fact that soon we would be talking about doing something. He allowed us sight of whatever he wrote before he published it, and I vividly remember Donna and I pouring over the one or two lines from me. Similarly the Museum Hour twitter discussion presented itself by chance. They tweeted that they had an empty slot that week, and I saw that it was Gill’s birthday, and decided (unilaterally and without the team really knowing about it) that I would host this, from my own twitter account. And asking questions only but being publicly engaged. There have been other times when I have decided to act unilaterally without consultation. A recent article for Apollo (Gerry and our PR looked over it last minute), and the text panels (Cathie looked at them but no one else … there are mistakes as a result but it was still the right decision!).

Index – I can seem quite impulsive and risk-taking, and I think that my staff needed to know that there was someone they trusted, who was very involved in the project, and confident and experienced enough to hold me to account if needed, and to talk and share there experiences with, someone involved who wasn’t me. Donna initially suggested a psychiatrist at Portman Clinic, but we also found you and Index, the idea that a case study was being developed, that would monitor and record the process was I think a calming and controlling effect for the staff.

Twinkle (work by Cathie Pilkington)– the idea of placing Twinkle in the introduction gallery was a huge moment, for me and for the team. It was goosebumps. She is being variously described as our guardian angel, or mediator, through this exhibition, and Cathie realises too that she has almost become a new and more potent work in this context. It was almost like she gave us permission to do the exhibition. I think the feeling happened again at the workshop day, and when I spoke to Courtauld students.

Cathie & the Doll – I knew immediately that when I met Cathie that we were going to work together on this, and that she provided a perfect way of engaging with the difficulties of the Petra doll. It was also clear to the workshop day that her involvement was key. Her work is complicated enough and she is accessible enough!

Workshop day – I don’t really remember how the idea of a workshop day came about but the overriding feeling was that we needed to take the lid off the pressure cooker which was the museum, and the way the staff were feeling. (I had needed to do this earlier on other issues to break open a very isolated and cliquey atmosphere that was here when I arrived.) I felt that the wider sector would support and comfort some of the anxieties, and also throw some light and experience on the subject.

Wellcome Trust – I met a couple of staff from the Wellcome Collection Front of House team at Museums Conference and I knew that if they could spent time with my team then that would be really reassuring particularly for Rebecca. I think that the day that she and Lucy spent with the Wellcome reassured them that we had put everything in place that we needed to. I don’t think we learnt a huge amount from them but it was reassuring. I know that I have put lots of people around myself to make this possible, I have struggled for my team to do the same around themselves despite making many introductions for them. I think this is something I need to reflect on with them in 1-1 meetings.

Rachel – I had a meeting with Vicky Kington, a prospective Trustee and Head of Press & PR at National Theatre, a couple of days before the workshop day and she suggested getting a trusted journalist to follow the process from the start. She asked who I would turn to and I said Rachel Cooke who I had exchanged tweets with when she wrote something about Gill and biography a year or so previous. I messaged her that night, and invited her to the workshop the following Monday, she was free and interested and excited. She felt it was fortune! (Working in this way also took the pressure off a long lead PR campaign as no press release was issued until after Rachel’s story three weeks before the show opened).

Kim Thomas – I remember palpably the experience of listing to Kim talking about BBC Casualty doing a story line about FGM. About how important it was to do, and the process they took, but also the overwhelming feeling that if they can do this, then we must do our own difficult issues. And the phase she used, that museums are trusted places in society, and must use this position to engage with difficult issues. I think it is no coincidence that I am also adopting the position of sharing our process, and wanting to provoke the sector into being proud of this role, and active in it.

Survivors Charities – I was nervous about diping my toe into this sector so first approached someone who I knew we probably wouldn’t be working with because they were quite the right area, but they would know other people, and I had a personal link to get to them. It was good testing out the subject with someone who we wouldn’t ultimately work with, the pressure was much less, and they could introduce me to the right people (and introduction being hugely valuable to enter the conversations without either side being as guarded). I remember asking him – what might be the concerns of this sector, and what might be the reasons why they would want to engage with us. This became invaluable information.

The Family – I had a meeting with Kim Thomas midway through the planning for the exhibition and asked her if she were my trustee would she let me do the show. She asked me what I thought our weak areas were; what made me wake in the night with worry. What were the areas I was avoiding doing. I said that I hadn’t engaged enough with the survivors charities, or Gill’s descendants. She told me to go back to her in a week’s time to say that I had! The next day I had a meeting with one of Gill’s great-granddaughters. It had been in my diary but I hadn’t quite engaged with it. When she came we managed to bring up the subject and it was very emotional for her. She was relieved to hear about what we were doing. I had subsequent conversations with Gill descendants. Not all easy ones. But I had taken the opportunity to do the first one face-to-face, and that eased the other conversations.

War memorial plinth – was a test, or reaffirmed my sense that this story might be written for us if we didn’t take steps to write it ourselves.

Two Temple Place and testing the wording for the text panels was one – hearing feedback from volunteers there allowed us to be prepared for the sorts of questions we would have to answer.

Trustee meeting – this was important in me having the confidence to say that we aren’t going to do this exhibition half-heartedly.

I took (and made) every opportunity I could to talk to people about the exhibition: our Friends association, the Art in Ditchling Open Houses group, University of Sussex students, Courtauld students …


Text panels and interpretation material will be shared with the Curator of Sculpture at V&A, Head of Interpretation at British Museum, Director of Brighton Survivers Network and curatorial colleagues at Wellcome Collection [NH]

Press & PR

Julia Farrington, Index on Censorship, produce Case Study on the process to record the consultation process [NH]

An exhibition rationale document is produced explaining the museum’s reasons for mounting the exhibition – shared with Kim Thomas, Editorial Adviser and former Head of Arts at BBC. [GW]

Key allies are developed in the press in advance of the PR campaign [GW]

Rachel Cooke, The Observer

 The Argus

Press training is given to staff, trustees, Friends association, volunteers and key stakeholders [GW]

Press strategy and LAEs developed [GW]

Vicky Kington, Head of Press at National Theatre

Emma Robertson, Brighton Festival

Kim Thomas, Editorial Adviser and former Head of Arts at BBC

Facts documented created [NH]

 Stakeholders notified with press release and rationale document [GW]

Village – Parish magazine, Vicar, DHP, Parish council via Don MacBeth and Tom Jones, Visit Ditchling and DVA

Gill Family

Visitor experience

Film commissioned for the Parlour featuring Cathie Pilkington, NH and DS (and hopefully Director of Brighton Survivers Network and a member of Gill’s family) to show personal narratives about why the exhibition was important, and our own feelings about curating it, and the works shown, and not shown [LJ]

Process developed for visitors to feedback their experience of the exhibition, and their personal responses to the questions raised; important to show that we value and want to hear all of these experiences [LJ]

Writer-in-residence appointed (with ACE funding) to create a new piece of work from the visitors’ experience of the exhibition – both from talking to visitors and from their written responses. This would also establish a permanent record of the exhibition. [LJ]

Signposting is provided to organisations who support people affected by sexual abuse and sexual violence – on leaflet given to all visitors, and on back of toilet doors. [LJ]

Staff & volunteer training

Additional member of staff on duty (in the gallery) during weekends in May (initially). [RD]

Staff will conduct hourly walk-throughs of the gallery during the week to increase presence in the gallery space. [RD]

Weekly debriefs to ensure that all staff are aware of how visitors are responding to the exhibition and changes can be made if appropriate. [RD]

Ensure appropriate and adequate barriers or age limits are in place at the ticket desk to reduce risk of visitor offence – checked with Samual Jones, Chair of Due-Diligence Group at Tate and Sarah Bailey, Head of Legal at Tate [RD]

Staff and volunteers provided with 3 sentence description of the exhibition.

New exhibition signs produced for behind the desk to indicate content.

Verbal and/or visual warning installed if explicit material is included.

Scenario training provided for staff and volunteers by Wellcome staff [RD]

Staff and volunteers receive talk on Eric Gill’s biography [RD]

Staff, volunteers and trustees receive talk from NH and DS on the rationale and journey towards the exhibition, and introduction to the content [RD]

Advice for refunds drawn up for FoH and Volunteers [RD]

Things not to say – and why document [RD][/vc_column_text][three_column_post title=”Case studies” full_width_heading=”true” category_id=”15471″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Eric Gill / The Body: Terminology

One of the issues addressed in the exhibition Eric Gill: The Body is the sexual abuse of his teenage daughters Betty and Petra. The way in which we address these issues and explain them to our audiences and visitors is extremely sensitive and should be treated with respect. We will be addressing the abuse frankly and openly, and would prefer not to use terms that downgrade the acts or sidestep the issue.

If you find yourself engaged in conversation with members of the public and the subject crops up, please make sure that you are familiar with the appropriate terms and vocabulary so that no offence is caused when discussing Gill’s conduct.

If a visitor wishes to engage with you on the subject and you are uncomfortable with doing so, please refer the visitor to another available member of staff.

Finally, this can be a difficult subject to absorb – if you are affected by any of the terms used below, please talk to a staff member who will offer advice.

Sexual abuse of his daughters Paedophile (he was not, as the girls were teenagers at the time)
Incestuous sexual abuse Peccadillos/  strange goings on/ funny business
Acts of sexual abuse Unusual sexual tastes / particular preferences
Familial sexual abuse Strange/bizarre/outrageous personal life
Subjected to sexual abuse Pervert
Child sexual molestation Controversial behavior

(it is not controversial, it did occur)

Child sexual abuse Bad behavior (it is but this could be used to minimize)
Perpetrator of sexual abuse
Child sexual assault
Domestic abuse

This is a grey area – these terms are used frequently but can cause offence – the more preferable term is ‘people who have been subjected to sexual abuse’.


Eric Gill / The Body: Q&A for visitor services

Why has the issue of Gill’s abuse not been addressed by the museum before?

The issue has always been something that has been addressed, but always privately and 1-1. This is the result of almost two years of discussing how a more consistent and open conversation with our audiences might look.

Why does the museum feel it is ethically okay to continue to promote and celebrate the work of a child abuser?

The Museum’s charitable mission is to share the contents of its collection for public benefit – for learning, inspiration and enjoyment. Eric Gill is central to the museum’s story and narrative and is internationally regarded for his contribution to art, craft and design. We do not think it appropriate, nor helpful, to censor his work and have instead taken the decision to have an open and honest conversation with our visitors rather than brush this story under the carpet or turn a blind eye.

What do Gill’s descendants think about this exhibition?

We are now three or four generations away from Eric Gill and so it is invariably a big family, and like any large group their views vary hugely. We have had long, difficult but open conversations with many descendants and they are supportive of our decision to do the exhibition, and looking forward to seeing the extraordinary sculptures and drawings which we have brought together for the exhibition.

What do the inhabitants of the village think about this exhibition?

I think that when Fiona McCarthy’s book was published the village was surprised by the revelations, and I am sure it was discussed at length in houses and pubs across the village. Now nearly 30 years later I am sure that there will be no revelations in the exhibition rather it is an opportunity to really examine the question we always come back to: how much can we separate the artist from the work that they produce.

Why do you feel it’s necessary for people to know about Gill’s past? Why can’t audiences just enjoy his art?

We do hope that there will be works of art on display which audiences can enjoy, some of his most spectacular sculptures and drawings are included within the exhibition. However we do need to provide the information to our visitors that helps them to interpret and understand the works. I am sure that some visitors will object to us raising the biography again, the same as I know that some visitors will object to us failing to publicly acknowledge the abuse.

How do you think it will make museum visitors who have been subjected to sexual abuse feel?

From working with Brighton Survivors Network, National Association fort the Protection of Abused Children and Stop it Now, we are told that 1 in 4 women have experienced some sort of sexual abuse. Our interpretation is sensitive to this, and our publicity material is all clear about the content of the exhibition so visitors will be aware of what they are coming to see. All visitors will be signposted to authorities who will be able to help those who need to talk further, and we are grateful to these charities for their support and advice.

What measures do you have in place to help any visitors affected by the exhibition?

Referral information will be provided to all visitors with their tickets, as well as posters within the building. Staff and volunteers have received training from NAPAC and Wellcome Collection.

How can you sell a commercial show on the back of such an awful subject?

The museum is a registered charity and makes no profit from the exhibition; admission ticket income supports the ongoing costs of running the museum. Our primary objective is educational and this exhibition is part of our educational remit to interpret our collection and tell the stories associated with the artists in our collection and integral to our narrative.

How do you think this exhibition will affect families with children coming to visit the museum, especially over the summer holiday months?

The majority of the exhibition is appropriate to audiences of all ages, as is our permanent collection which occupies the majority of the museum. Across the 80 works on show we have four works which contain sexually explicit material. This will be clearly signposted in an age restricted area of the exhibition. We will be providing plenty of appropriate material for children and families within and beyond the museum walls during the exhibition.

What if visitors come to your museum just expecting to see some nice art (or not knowing what to expect) and are faced with this difficult subject?

The exhibition is being well promoted and all marketing material explains the narrative of the exhibition. The quality of the works on display is exceptional as is the permanent collection which is always the centerpiece of the museum’s displays. Museums are places to learn, discover and think … as well as enjoy. This exhibition will certainly inspire thought and discussion, but there is plenty of beauty  

What do you say to those who believe that Gill’s public works should be removed?

We have a duty to preserve and maintain our collection, and to interpret it for our visitors. I don’t think that removing and censoring Gill’s work serves anyone, and the victim/survivor organisations which the museum is working with share the belief that opening up the conversation increases the likelihood of preventing and stopping abuse.

Ditchling is a quaint, rural museum celebrating a man who committed monstrous acts – how can visitors enjoy your museum and its exhibits in full knowledge of this history?

Not all art is to be enjoyed; some art is powerful for other reasons. Many people still do enjoy Gill’s work as wonderful examples of many craft forms. We also have many other artist’s work within our permanent collection and temporary exhibition programme. If visitors choose not to visit Eric Gill: The Body then I hope they will enjoy one of our future displays.

Why are Petra, Betty and Joan not represented in the museum?

We have work in our permanent collection by or of all four of Gill’s children and are actively collecting their work. We are particularly interested in their childhood drawings produced in the village and how these relate to their father’s work. Petra’s work as a weaver is also represented in our collection.

Did other members of the Guild and Ditchling community know about the abuse?

Although it was probably very clear to many people that Eric Gill was interested in sex and the body, this is very different from knowledge of any sexual abuse of his children. There is no evidence that anyone knew of this which would not be uncommon with interfamilial sexual abuse which relies on absolute secrecy.

Is Gill a significant enough artist to celebrate anyway?

Gill is unquestionably an important artist who had a significant impact on carving, lettercutting, typography and wood engraving. His work is held in the permanent collections of museums across the world including Tate, V&A and British Museum in London. The typeface he designed is one of the most commonly used in the Western world and his sculptures grace the buildings of the BBC, Westminster Cathedral and the United Nations. Whether or not his work is celebrated is a more personal one and is integral to the question that we are asking our audiences.

How will the museum talk about Gill and display his work after this exhibition? Where does it leave the museum/what’s the legacy?

After this exhibition, and the learning that we have undertaken as a result, we will reflect on how the permanent collection displays can incorporate this information so that the museum does not turn a blind eye to Gill’s more disturbing biography again. This will more than likely take the form of including within our revolving permanent collection displays works by Eric Gill where knowledge if Gill’s abuse is critical to understanding the work. We will then provide this information in the correct context without sensationalizing.

Is the abuse continued/perpetuated by showing these works?

We have consulted with the Brighton Survivors’ Network, NAPAC and other charities who work with people who have been abused and we all believe that to stop future abuse it is better to talk openly rather than turn a blind eye and censor. We can well understand that for some these works are particularly hard to enjoy and appreciate. This is an issue explored in more depth within the exhibition.

Why show images of naked women who have been abused by their artist father?

These images are significant works of art and are part of our permanent collection which we have a duty to preserve, display and interpret. We have taken significant steps to present them in an open and honest way for people to make their own minds up as to whether the knowledge of the abuse affects our appreciation and enjoyment of the works of art.

Why is Petra the focus of the exhibition and not Betty?

Images of Petra and Elizabeth are included in the exhibition. Eric Gill made the carved wooden doll for Petra, and gave it to the museum, it is this object which particularly caught the attention of Cathie Pilkington and the inspiration for her new work Doll for Petra.

Aren’t you really drawing attention to Gill’s appalling private life in order to attract additional publicity and visitor numbers?

Fiona McCarthy’s biography on Gill was published nearly 30 years ago so the information has been in the public domain since then. Since the museum became dedicated to the art and craft of the village in 2014 the need to confront this central issue of whether we can separate the art and life of the artist has become more important. The Museum has spent two years consulting on the development of this exhibition and we believe it is our public duty to talk about the subject openly and honestly. It is not without financial or reputational risk for a museum to embark on a controversial subject such as this so is not programmed lightly.

Have you timed this exhibition now as ‘historic sex abuse’ is such a hot topic?

We have been working for the last few years to develop a way of talking more publicly about the issue within the museum, although superficially it may be easy to link Eric Gill to Rolf Harris or Jimmy Saville, in fact his was the harder to confront issue of interfamilial abuse which rarely goes detected or reported.

What warnings are you giving to alert visitors that some of the exhibits and what you call the ‘narrative’ may be disturbing or offensive, if they are?

All visitors will be given a leaflet with their tickets explaining the content of the exhibition, it will include a warning of sexually explicit material. This material will be in a separate area with additional age barriers.

Are all your Trustees comfortable with this exhibition and the approach you are adopting?

The museum’s staff and trustees have all been part of the process of developing this exhibition.

What about Dame Vera Lynn – does she even know the exhibition is taking place?  Not her sort of thing, surely?

Dame Vera Lynn has just celebrated her 100th birthday and we were delighted to congratulate her on this. Understandably she is little involved with the day to day operations of the museum now but we are very grateful for her support in the past and her ongoing Patronage of the museum.

How does the wider artistic community in the UK see Gill in the light of the comparatively recent disclosures about his past?

I am sure that artists, like our wider visitors and audience, will take differing views on this issue. It is for this reason that the exhibition is framed as a question to ask how much our knowledge of Gill’s abuse affects our enjoyment and appreciation of the work he produced.

Do you regard Fiona McCarthy’s biography as authoritative? Has she been approached to attend and/or comment?

Other books have been published on Gill since Fiona’s biography but none question her discoveries. Our director is often in contact with her but, nearly 30 years after her biography on Gill, she is understandably working on new projects now.

Have you had any formal or informal; protests from feminist and/or victim support groups?

We have been working closely with Brighton Survivors Network, NAPAC and Stop it Now in preparation for this exhibition.

Has any of Gill’s work been removed from places where it was previously exhibited now that awareness of and attitudes towards incest and child abuse have changed?

We don’t know of any examples of Gill’s work being removed and his reputation as an extraordinary craftsman and designer continues to this day.

Do you believe that sexual behavior now regarded as abhorrent was much more over-looked or even accepted – particularly amongst artists – in the 1920s?

There is no evidence that anyone knew of Gill’s sexual abuse during his life. We think that Gill’s sexual abuse of his daughters was unacceptable – then or now.

What value is placed on Gill’s work commercially in the art market today?  Does knowledge of an artist’s proclivities increase or decrease the value of their work?

There are many factors which influence the art market and as a public museum more concerned with artistic rather than monetary value, this is not an area in which we have expertise. Certainly Gill continues to be popular and prices have rised, but the cause of this is probably much more complex than the revelations in a biography almost 30 years ago.

What percentage of the permanent collection at Ditchling is by Gill?

We hold a large collection of Gill’s work in the museum’s permanent collection, but we also hold a large body of work by other great artists including David Jones, Frank Brangwyn, Ethel Mairet, Edward Johnston and others.

Do you think there is a risk once awareness of the exhibition builds your visitors to Ditchling may include voyeuristic abusers and paedophiles?

I think this is highly unlikely. The museum is a treat of a destination for any lover of art and craft across a broad range of crafts from silversmithing to weaving and natural dyeing. The work we are showing are extraordinary carvings, drawings and wood-engravings; this is not a sleazy voyeuristic exhibition but a thoughtful and considered analysis of Gill’s artistic output.

Gill was supposedly Catholic.  Has there been any reaction to your exhibition from the Catholic Church?

We have not been working with the church on this exhibition. Although Gill was Catholic, and a founding member of the Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic, the sexual abuse which he perpetrated was unconnected to the church and was interfamilial abuse between a father and his teenage daughter.

It is said Leonardo da Vinci abused the young students in his care – has anyone suggested his work should not be seen on this basis?

Our art historical expertise is probably too niche to be able to make comment on this. As far as we know da Vinci never visited Ditchling.

Will you be devoting any of your profits from this exhibition to any charities working with the victims of abuse?  If not, don’t you think you should?

As a register charity we do not collect money on behalf of other charities but we are working closely with charities who work with people who have been abused. We hope that these will be long-lasting relationships with these charities and we would be more than happy to help them in their fundraising.

Aren’t some of Gill’s work simply frightening and upsetting? Shouldn’t your exhibits be uplifting and joyous?

The works on display are not frightening but the stories behind them might well be upsetting it is for this reason that we think correctly interpreting the works is necessary. Not all art is to be enjoyed; some art is powerful for other reasons. Many people still do enjoy Gill’s work as wonderful examples of many craft forms and that many of Gill’s depictions of the body are very beautiful and uplifting.

How do the women on the staff of the Museum feel about this exhibition?  The Women’s Views on News website talks about ‘moral blindness’ surrounding Gill’s work today?

The staff team have worked closely together on developing this exhibition, and have absolutely not been morally blind in developing this exhibition. With any one member of the team, on any one day, I am sure we all feel different about Gill and particular works. This is why it felt appropriate to curate an exhibition such as this so that each work displayed is approached with the same question in mind: is the biography affecting my enjoyment and appreciation of the work. Sometimes the answer may be yes, at other times, it may be no.

Isn’t it true that Gill’s daughters did not regard themselves as ‘abused’?  They are reported as having normal happy and fulfilled lives and Petra at almost 90 commented that she wasn’t embarrassed by revelations about her family life and that they just ‘took it for granted’.  Aren’t we all perhaps making more of this than the people affected?

Elizabeth was no longer alive when Fiona McCarthy’s book was published, and those who met Petra certainly record a calm woman who managed to come to terms with her past abuse, and still greatly admired her father as an artist. I don’t think that we should try to imagine her process to reaching this acceptance as we know too little about her own experiences.

If you had bought a picture by Rolf Harris before revelations about his behavior came out, would you keep it or sell it?

We hope the exhibition will generate debate around these kinds of questions. I personally am not that familiar with Rolf Harris’s work as an artist so I am afraid I couldn’t comment further.