David Gilbert Wood Sculptor 1928 – 2016
David Gilbert was born in Uxbridge, Middlesex in 1947. Following National Service with the Royal Navy, he took up a scholarship place at Cambridge University from where he graduated with a BA in English in 1952.
Following graduation, for the remainder of the 1950s, his roving spirit took him briefly to Cornwall, Sweden and London where he had various jobs as a postman, theatre hand and telephonist amongst other things and, importantly, began to sculpt in stone and wood. During this time he also met his future wife, Sheila, a widow with 6 children.
In 1959 they married and the new family moved to Arran tempted by the offer of a friend’s holiday house in Lochranza where Gilbert began carving bowls, jewellery and furniture.
Within a year the family moved to Kilmory House in Lagg where he set up a fully equipped workshop and began life as a full-time sculptor. At that time he was one of only 3 full – time sculptors working in Scotland and his work was becoming recognised in the art world which led to a solo exhibition in 1961 at the Primavera Gallery in London with pieces of his work being purchased by the Victoria and Albert Museum and Derby and Bristol Museum Services.
The 1960s was an important decade for Gilbert both personally and artistically. Three more children were added to the family and in 1963-64 he exhibited with the Scottish Arts Council, the Scottish Royal Academy and the Design Centre in London. In addition, he had a solo exhibition during the Edinburgh Festival at the Douglas and Fowlis Gallery and sculptures were purchased by several private collectors as well as the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, the Scottish Arts Council, the Abbot Hall Gallery in Kendal and the McRoberts and Tunnard Gallery, London. Significantly, in 1965, he was awarded the first Scottish Arts Council’s sculpture bursary. Also during this time he completed his iconic Arran piece – a seat beside the road between Brodick and Lamlash reminiscent of the Machrie Moor standing stones. A replica is in the garden of Arran Heritage Museum. Then in 1969 he won a Scottish Arts Council competition for memorial sculpture sited at Rothesay Academy on Bute.
Sadly, this successful and happy time on Arran was blighted by a fire in 1965 which destroyed Kilmory House and building the house again proved very expensive with the result that the family ran out of money leaving no option but to sell and leave the island but in spite of these personal difficulties, Gilbert had still managed to initiate and run a 3D creative workshop at DHSS Cotswold Community for emotionally disturbed adolescent boys with learning difficulties from 1969 – 1971.
Gilbert was indeed a special person. He and the family moved to the Isle of Man in 1971 and set up a self–sufficient smallholding where he and his wife, Sheila, also taught and, in conjunction with the Isle of Man Board of Education, ran an Educational Day Centre which encouraged young people with difficulties, often on the margins of society as well as aspiring artists. Many young people were extremely grateful to both David and Sheila Gilbert for their devotion to their cause and, Gilbert himself saw how important offering opportunities for creativity was. He said in 1989:
“There could be an authentic creative satisfaction in the extraordinarily sophisticated task of enabling a 14-year-old who so far has smashed his way through life destroying everything and everyone within reach, to begin, to continue and to complete the making of a three-legged stool.”
Gilbert became an important member of the Manx arts community and was a founder member of Arts in Man which promoted and encouraged the visual arts on the Isle of Man, as well as running an art/craft gallery in a converted double–decker bus which he supplied from his 3Dworkshop, working as a builder and interior designer and from 1982 -1988 working as a visiting lecturer in Sculpture and 3D Design on the Art Foundation Course at the Isle of Man College of Further Education. In 1987 he was working on eleven relief sculptures for the Manx Museum to be cast in glass reinforced concrete as an external frieze. His work on behalf of the arts community on the Isle of Man was greatly appreciated and in 1989, Norman Sayle, former Head of Art at Isle of Man College said of him:
“ You would think that running a small holding, making sculptures, teaching art students, caring for needy youngsters, and running the Travelling Gallery would be enough……………...more than any other person on the island he has found the time and will to campaign on behalf of the arts……..”
In 1989 the Manx Museum and art gallery also hosted a solo exhibition of twenty years of Gilbert’s work.
The 1980s and early 90s also brought wider acknowledgement in Britain with three drawings being accepted for the Hayward Gallery Annual British Drawing Open Submission and one drawing accepted by the Arts Council of Great Britain in 1982. In 1983 Gilbert was represented at the Tolly Cobold Exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum Cambridge and in 1986 shortlisted both for a commission in the centre of Paisley and for the Strand Sculpture in London. In addition, the solo retrospective exhibition which had been mounted at the Manx Museum was shown at the Peter Scott gallery at Lancaster University with a number of woodcuts and a drawing bought by Lancaster Museum and Art Gallery.
From 1988 - !997 David and Sheila Gilbert lived in a terraced house in Lancaster where Gilbert worked mainly at drawing, woodcuts and monotypes. Then in 1997 the couple moved to their final home on the Lleyn Peninsula in North Wales where Gilbert worked on free standing and relief sculptures, chiefly in wood, drawings and woodcuts. One project in particular dominated this period of Gilbert’s life, a sculpture called, “What is the Case” which was made up of a number of separate small sculptures individually housed in perspex boxes. In fact, sixty plus pieces of this sculpture were exhibited in Liverpool as part of that city’s year as European City of Culture in 2008. The following year, it was shown again, this time with seventy plus pieces, at the Peter Scott Gallery in Lancaster. Gilbert continued to work on this piece until 2016.
Meanwhile, in 2011,the David Gilbert Art Trust was established to look after the work done by David Gilbert made over half a century. The remit of this trust is to identify, maintain and manage the art works of David Gilbert, seek to place a core collection of the work into public ownership on the basis that it will continue to be available for public view, to catalogue the work and where relevant place materials in an appropriate archive and seek opportunities to exhibit individual pieces or collections of the work.
David Gilbert died in 2016 leaving a legacy of outstanding work and having also, along with his wife Sheila, enriched every community in which they lived.