Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cumming, William Gordon (1894–1972)

by Caroline Miley

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

William Gordon Cumming (1894-1972), woodcarver, was born on 24 October 1894 at Launceston, Tasmania, youngest of nine children of Thomas Girdwood Cumming, an ironworker from Scotland, and his wife Thirza Martha, née Cruse. Educated at Invermay State School, Gordon was apprenticed to W. Coogan & Co., furniture manufacturers, and studied carving and modelling under Hugh Cunningham at Launceston Technical College. He exhibited carved furniture with the Arts and Crafts societies of Northern Tasmania (1911), Victoria (1912) and Tasmania.

On 21 August 1915 Cumming enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force; he served with the 13th Field Ambulance in Egypt and on the Western Front. Embarking for Australia as a lance corporal in May 1919, he was discharged in Tasmania in September and was re-employed by Coogans. On 27 September 1922 at Oakleigh, Melbourne, he married with Methodist forms Elsie May Tranter (d.1968) whom he had met in France. He taught carving, modelling and repoussé work on a part-time basis at Launceston Technical College in 1922.

Having lost his job in the Depression, in 1930 Cumming established a woodcarving business at his home. There he took commissions, and taught school children and adult pupils, to whom he imparted his crisp and decisive technique and his eclectic approach. He excelled when working in collaboration with the architects Alexander North and Frank Heyward, and with the cabinetmakers J. & T. Gunn Pty Ltd and Hinman, Wright & Manser Ltd, and was frequently employed to furnish and ornament Tasmanian churches. In 1932 he carved the monumental cover for the font in Holy Trinity, Launceston, which was designed by North in a combined Gothic Revival and Arts and Crafts style that incorporated gum leaves and nuts. Next year Cumming completed the furnishings, with exquisite fretwork-carving of stylized, eucalypt motifs, for the chapel of Launceston Church Grammar School. He was also proficient at repoussé metalwork and cement modelling: he executed the foliated, cement-column capitals (c.1934) in St John's, Launceston, and decorated commercial buildings in that medium, including a set of panels (c.1932) depicting contemporary life for the Tasmanian Farmers' Co-operative Association Ltd's premises at Burnie.

Five ft 10 ins (178 cm) tall, wiry and balding, Cumming was deeply religious, honest and gentle; his wry sense of humour and enthusiasm for nature expressed itself in his love of his craft and of his garden. He played the violin and flute, and was a Freemason who belonged to the Army and Navy Lodge. On 21 March 1970 he married a widow Margery Joyce Butterworth, née Forward, at Christ Church, Launceston, with Congregational forms. Survived by her, and by the two daughters of his first marriage, he died on 13 June 1972 at Launceston and was cremated. After his death, Cumming's final carvings for the furnishings of Scotch College chapel, Launceston, were found completed on his workbench.

Select Bibliography

  • C. Miley, Beautiful and Useful (Launc, 1987)
  • K. Dimmack, Woodcarving in Tasmania (Launc, 1988).

Citation details

Caroline Miley, 'Cumming, William Gordon (1894–1972)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cumming-william-gordon-9874/text17473, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 17 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2018