A first biography – Undaunted Spirit

Alice was the co-star of An Artist’s War. The art and letters of Morris & Alice Meredith Williams, published by the History Press in 2017 (https://anartistswar.com). Readers and audiences at talks were intrigued by Alice and wanted to know more about her. Undaunted Spirit. The art and craft of Gertrude Alice Meredith Williams is the response – the first biography of an extraordinary artist, with 290 illustrations of 120 pieces of work across 160 pages.

This is an exemplary artist’s biography: the text, accompanied by superb design and illustrations, is in every way a delight to read.
Peter Cormack, The Journal of Stained Glass, Vol XLII, 2018

The book’s title is borrowed from the words of a friend, written after her death: “Small of stature and delicate in appearance, with visionary eyes, she acquired amid the rigours of her student life a power of endurance which supported her in the heaviest work, and no obstacles deterred her undaunted spirit from carrying out an idea.”

Alice was a prize-winning student at Liverpool School of Architecture and Applied Art in the 1890s. In 1900 she won a £60 travel scholarship. She took herself to Paris and stayed for five years, studying and making work, before marrying fellow artist Morris Meredith Williams and settling in Edinburgh.

Before the First World War, she designed stained glass windows, made painted plaster reliefs and bronze and silver statuettes for domestic settings and helped Morris with his book illustrations. During the war there was little new work until 1918, when she was commissioned by the Imperial War Museum to make a series of plaster models illustrating women’s war work. These led to an invitation from the architect Robert Lorimer to collaborate on a war memorial for Queenstown (now Komani) in South Africa. It was her first large-scale public work and was followed by the commissions for Paisley and the Scottish National War Memorial.

Spirit of the Crusaders, Paisley, 1924 (Photograph by B. Moyes, Clydesideimages.com)

During the 1920s, alone and with Morris, she designed stained glass windows and figures of saints and angels for the pulpits, altars, corbels and organ cases of more than a dozen churches in Britain, and also in Hamilton, Bermuda and Long Island, New York. In 1928, she was elected an Associate of the Royal Society of British Sculptors. In 2020 she will feature in the Royal Society of Sculptors’ Re-introducing Our Pioneering Women project.

Drawing on previously unpublished letters, notes and pictures, Undaunted Spirit. The art and craft of Gertrude Alice Meredith Williams traces Alice’s story and the development of her work from her early days in Liverpool and Paris to the end of her life, in Devon, at the age of 56.

Detail of Alice’s reredos for the church of St James the Less, Penicuik, 1921