Robert Gillmor 1936–2022
We were saddened to hear of the death of Robert Gillmor last week, an artist, author and ornithologist that we will always feel immensely grateful for having worked with. It all started, for us, back in 2010 when Elaine Blake, Curator at Reading Museum, asked if we’d be interested in publishing a book to accompany an exhibition she was putting on of artwork commissioned from Robert by the Royal Mail for a series of stamps (Birds, Blocks and Stamps: Post & Go Birds of Britain). We jumped at the opportunity, though with some trepidation as we’d never published an art book before and it was a little daring to start with one by such a well known artist.
From the first meeting, which took place at Robert and Sue’s home in Cley, Norfolk, we knew the project was going to be a delight to work on as well as a success. Working with Robert turned out to be an invitation into his home – meeting Sue, enjoying home-made soup in their conservatory before clearing the crumbs away to pore over the most astounding linocut prints, marveling at the workmanship and receiving a demonstration of his trusted 1864 Albion Press in his studio. A subsequent meeting to discuss a second book (Cover Birds, the story of Robert’s formative bird-watching and print-making years, illustrated with the covers he designed for the Berkshire Ornithological Club’s annual bird report from 1949 – when he was just 13 years old – onwards) took place at a cousin’s house as a half-way point and also included a delicious home-made lunch, by which time we felt like family friends. This privilege extended over more than a decade as we got to know Emily their daughter, also an accomplished artist, and were included on Christmas card lists (always one of Robert’s wonderful birds) and newsletter mailings.
I struggle to find a word to describe this generosity of spirit. ‘Hospitality’ is part of it, but it’s something more, encompassing a sense of easy naturalness in a relationship based on accepting people for who they are. It strikes me that this same ability to see and accept the essence of a person is what makes Robert’s work so appealing. In his designs, he endowed all his avian subjects with what ornithologists call ‘the jizz’ – the very character and personality of the bird. Something in Robert recognised and drew out the joy in an animal, and he did the same with people. It’s our turn now, to commemorate the joy in him.
Sally Mortimore, May 2022