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From ‘Lady Woodcarvers’ to Professionals: The Remarkable Pinwill Sisters

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£5 – £11.03

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Learn all about the remarkable Pinwill sisters who worked as professional woodcarvers in Victorian Ermington and then Plymouth.

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The success of the Pinwill sisters, Mary, Ethel and Violet, in learning their craft and defying convention to become professional ecclesiastical woodcarvers in 1890, was shaped by several factors. Their family background was of prime importance in not only providing support and encouragement, but also in affording a heritage of working with wood. The architect Edmund H. Sedding played a critical role in his patronage of the fledgling woodcarving business, delivering high quality and innovative designs for their early work, establishing the company’s reputation, and attracting the attention of other architects.

When Violet Pinwill became sole proprietor in the 1910s, she went on to establish one of the most prominent wood and stone carving businesses in the Westcountry. During her working life, Violet saw the demise of Gothic Revival, the flowering of Arts & Crafts, and the ascendance of the modern. After the death of Edmund H. Sedding in 1921, she demonstrated her ability to adapt to these changes, often with inspired designs of her own. During the later phases, Violet produced some of her best pieces, and was to be found at her bench two days before she died in 1957. The legacy of the Pinwill sisters is not only in the 650+ pieces of carving in nearly 200 churches across the Westcountry and further afield, but also as a source of inspiration to the increasing number of people who are becoming aware their remarkable achievements.

After a career in academia, Dr Helen Wilson developed an interest in local history, and particularly in the ancient churches of Devon and Cornwall. In 2009, while visiting Morwenstow church, Cornwall, she ‘discovered’ the Pinwill sisters, sparking a decade-long research project. Further research into the life of Edmund H. Sedding and the wider context of the work of the Pinwills, has enabled the production of the first full study of these important Westcountry craftswomen. Helen also sits on the Executive Committee of the Devonshire Association and acts as Chair of their Buildings Section.

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