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The Simpsons: An Arts & Crafts Family

Cumbrian crafts family in limelight as part of Blackwell exhibition

Minstrels Gallery in the Main Hall at Blackwell (

One of the masters of the Arts & Crafts movement is in focus as part of a brand new exhibition.

The Simpsons: An Arts & Crafts Family runs from 21 September 2018 to 6 January 2019 at Blackwell, The Arts & Crafts House.

The exhibition looks at one of the most creative family enterprises in both Cumbrian and Arts & Crafts history. It explores the Simpson family’s craftsmanship throughout Blackwell and presents work by Arthur Simpson, one of the master craftsmen of the movement.

The Simpsons Family Stamp © Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery

Although Blackwell has staged exhibitions of Arthur’s work before, this is the first exhibition of work by the Simpsons family as a whole. It places them in the context of the Arts & Crafts Movement in the Lake District.

The Simpsons: An Arts & Crafts Family offers the chance for visitors to see rarely displayed items from the Lakeland Arts collection including textiles, embroidery, leatherwork, furniture, wood carving, original drawings and designs.

It also features a selection of loans from Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery as well as several unseen pieces from private collections. Highlights include personal items made by the family members for each other and a design for a carving at Blackwell.

Dining Room Seat Rose Carving by Arthur Simpson

Arthur Simpson was born in Cumbria in 1857. He showed an early flair for wood-carving, working in London before returning to establish his famous Handicrafts workshop in Kendal and showroom in Windermere.

The superb workmanship of his furniture, with clean simple lines, found a ready market locally. Much of the woodwork in Blackwell was created by the hands of Arthur Simpson.

But although well-known in Cumbria, Arthur was somewhat overlooked in the wider story of the Arts & Crafts movement.

As well as being a master craftsman, Arthur was an astute businessman and had an eye on the future. He was able to pass on his skills to his children, encouraging them to have an artistic outlook. They, in turn, became a creative force.

Jane Simpson, despite a lack of prior experience, found herself to be a natural at embroidery. Wanting to be actively involved in the business she produced startling embroideries, leatherwork and needlepoint bedspreads inspired by the natural world around her. Daughter Hilda also produced embroidery, creating delicate lace-work, and both sons became apprentices under their father’s guidance.

Chelsea Eves, exhibition curator said: “Arthur Simpson was one of the best carvers of his day. The workmanship put in to his furniture was truly outstanding. There is so much passion in his work.

“It’s remarkable that each of the family of five were hugely talented in their own right. And under the stewardship of Simpson they worked collaboratively.

“But while they had notoriety in Cumbria, The Simpsons were overlooked elsewhere, and little is written about them in the annals of Arts & Crafts history.

“This exhibition will focus on the family’s creative work but also look at who they were. We are keen to tell their stories for the first time.”

Running alongside this exhibition will be Grayson Perry Ceramics: In-Focus (21 September 2018 to 6 January 2019) which features three spotlight loans. Included are Melanie (2014) on loan from York Museums Trust (York Art Gallery), Mad Kid’s Bedroom Wall Pot (1996) on loan from the Crafts Council, and Christening Pot (1998), on loan from a private collection.

More details about the exhibition at

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