The Wilson Cheltenham Art Gallery & Museum has opened a brand new gallery that allows visitors to delve into new displays of the Museum’s extensive archive collections that tell the story of the town and its people, and the Arts and Crafts designers and makers who settled in Gloucestershire. The Paper Store features the Museum’s paper collections, many of which will be on display for the first time.
Visitors will be treated to displays of intricately illustrated Arts and Crafts books, stunning images of Cheltenham – and the Antarctic – and can open drawers to discover the Museum’s archives: playbills from theatres in the town advertising orang-utans and Venetian masquerades, watercolours by Edward Wilson, postcards of Cheltenham scenes and furniture designs by leading Arts and Crafts designers.
One of the largest collections displayed in the Paper Store is the Emery Walker Library. This was acquired by the Art Gallery & Museum in 1990, and forms part of the world-renowned Designated Arts and Crafts Movement collection. Emery Walker was a printer who became friends with William Morris and eventually became one of the most respected members of the Arts and Crafts Movement. In 1900 he started his own press with a friend, T J Cobden-Sanderson, the Doves Press and books from that press, from Morris’s own Kelmscott Press and many other private presses are represented in the library. What makes the library particularly special is the wealth of archival material relating to his life and the Arts and Crafts Movement, including handdrawn illustrations by Morris, and correspondence with George Bernard Shaw, T E Lawrence and many others. The library has been featured in many temporary exhibitions at the Art Gallery & Museum, but is now permanently displayed in the Paper Store with a rolling programme of displays or books and archive material.
The Wilson Family Collection of photographs, watercolours forms a key part of the display, allowing visitors to see original watercolours and photographs from Edward Adrian Wilson’s two expeditions to the Antarctic. Edward Wilson was born and brought up in Cheltenham, and the Museum and town commemorated the centenary of the Terra Nova expedition to the South Pole and the death of Scott, Wilson and the other members of the team who died alongside them in 2012. The Art Gallery & Museum holds a collection of his watercolours, sketchbooks, letters and other ephemera relating to his work as a scientist, doctor and artist. The collection also contains material relating to other members of the family, including his parents, and nine siblings. His father, Edward Thomas Wilson, was a pioneering local doctor and active in the community. He was one of the founders of this Museum. Most of the archive has been given by the Wilson Family over the last hundred years, and they remain active supporters of the Museum. The new cases in which the Wilson collection is now displayed were funded with contributions from the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust.
Also represented in the Paper Store are treasures from the Arts and Crafts Archive of drawings, designs, photographs and much more by key Arts and Crafts designers featured in the Wilson’s collections such as Ernest Gimson and C R Ashbee.
The Cheltenham Collection contains an important collection of images of the town from its heyday as a Spa through its growth in the 19th century, slum clearance in the 20th century to the work of businesses and shops throughout the last two hundred years. There is also a significant collection of over 3,000 Cheltenham Theatre playbills, many from the Regency period, the cases for these were funded by the Barbara Clarke Trust.
Displays will be changed regularly to highlight different areas of the collection. The Paper Store opens with a cross section of material from all the collections. Look out for future shows that reveal more of Cheltenham and Gloucestershire’s history, and that link in with the Wilson’s temporary exhibition programme.
The photograph shows Emery Walker and T J Cobden Sanderson, founders of the Doves Press, between 1901 and 1907. CAGM1991.1016.953