Drawn to Books: Women Illustrators of the Birmingham School

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Birmingham School of Art, the first municipal art school in the country, opened in 1885. Birmingham played an important part in the development of education for both children and adults in the 19th century, and at this time a number of Birmingham institutions were expanding education beyond the walls of universities. The School of Art contributed by instructing students—notably women—in book binding and metalwork in addition to the more conventional subjects of painting and illustration.

The School of Art’s signature style, which became known as the ‘Birmingham School’, was built on the foundations of the Pre-Raphaelite movement. It embraced the Arts and Crafts ethos, which favoured hand-crafts and traditional techniques. In book illustrations, Arts and Crafts features included flattened perspective, mediaeval imagery, and the heavy outlines of woodcuts. Promoting the ‘unity of the arts’, Birmingham School artists often combined text and image. At a time when the education of girls took second place to that of boys, the women of the Birmingham School were trail-blazers. The works included in this exhibition highlight the often forgotten contributions of these women to the literary and artistic scenes around the turn of the 20th century, both in Birmingham and beyond.

The exhibition was sponsored by Winterbourne House and Garden and the Cadbury Research Library of the University of Birmingham, and co-curated with third-year English Literature students. The University of Birmingham's Alumni Impact Fund supported student access to COVE. Their captions, written for the brick-and-mortar exhibit held at Winterborne January-November 2018,  appear in the COVE Gallery entries under their names.  Images from the Cadbury's collection appear with their permission.