Just for fun!
This is a miscellaneous collection of models, inventions and paintings which were produced simply because Dad felt like it at the time.
I have huge fondness for this little hippo, who has remained with me for about 45 years, and survived several house moves. Bits have dropped off him from time to time, and been replaced as best I can. I remember well the evening that Dad made him. I was about seven years old, and probably getting in the way in his studio, which was a converted bedroom in the house where I grew up. Dad had been experimenting a bit with acryllic paint and egg tempera, neither of which were the medium he usually used - i.e. watercolour.
There was a large cardboard roll on his desk in which some magazines had been delivered that morning, and I watched as he picked it up and cut about 8" off the end, and painted it roughly with some acryllics which were starting to harden in a pallette on his desk. I asked what he was doing, but he wouldn't tell me, and asked me to guess. When the paint was dry, which didn't take long, he cut a curved slit partway along both sides of the roll, spread the top half slightly and glued it in place with a lolly stick. He filled in the open area with paper, which was also painted... at that point I started to recognise what this new creature might become. Tiny paper scrolls were rolled up and glued in place to form the teeth, slightly larger ones became the legs, the ears were just little discs of grey paper, and finally the eyes and tail were added from plasticine.
This was the result - which probably took less than half an hour to make, completely from imagination with whatever bits and pieces were lying around at the time. It was this sort of understated genius and sense of fun that was so much a part of my father.
One afternoon I met Dad coming in from the garden with a straight branch that he'd just cut from one of our cherry trees. He took this into the garage and started to remove the bark and shape it into something resembling a walking stick with a rounded top and pointed end. Once again, my questions were met with a grin and "see if you can guess".
Well, this project took a bit longer than the hippo, and I wandered out to the garage from time to time to see how the strange object was progressing. It started to take on a more refined shape around the top end, and he marked it with pencil circles at intervals down the lengh, and wrote numbers in each segment. just when I thought I'd worked out that it was definitely going to be a prettily carved walking stick, he surprised me by cutting it in half down its entire length. Each half was then sawn into around 30 pieces so that he ended up with a pile of half cylinders, each of which in turn was tapered into a kind of wedge shape. I was totally lost by now, although the top section was starting to look suspiciously like a snake's head.
Next, a length of carpet webbing tape was produced and the numbered sections of wood were reassembled and glued in order along its length. The tape could bend from side to side, but was rigid top to bottom, so that the whole structure moved in a very realistic snake-like manner. Finally, the acryllic paints came out again, together with two beautiful onyx eyes and a forked tongue made of a short length of the plastic sleeve stripped from a fine electrical flex.
I have since seen similar items for sale in shops, but this was made years before they were so readily available, and I have never seen one with such a realistic movement. It is also larger than others I have seen, at around two feet in length and its weight makes his movement eerily convincing. Despite the fact that it is obviously not real, several people with an aversion to snakes have not been able to go near it! I think he is rather a noble beast.
Key ring Jacob's ladder
It was always rather fun when Dad got one of his ideas, and trying to guess what he had in mind, but this next one was something I could never have figured out. It really needs to be seen working to appreciate what it actually is, but the effect is rather baffling.
He took me into the local hardware store one day and we bought 30 large keyrings. The next few hours were spent in a confusion of Dad attempting to join them together in such a way that they would perform as he imagined they should.
The way it works is almost impossible to describe in words, but when held in a certain way, one ring appears to tumble down the length of the chain from top to bottom, and this movement can be repeated quite fast, a little in the style of a "Jacob's Ladder". I have never seen anything like this before or since.
This was the finished product:
Apart from the three examples I have shown above, Dad was an accomplished cabinet maker, and crafted some beautiful items from wood, with intricate dovetail joints and clever mechanisms. I have a jewellry box which he made for my godmother, that opens by pressing one of the tiny brass screws down one of its sides, rather than the little lock at the top. It is a very clever little device, and meticulously made.
Dad would also occasionally disappear into his studio and come down a few hours later with a painting he'd done just for fun. I still have a number of these originals, and a few are shown below. I was always fascinated by the fact that Dad never used any white paint in his work. Any white areas were simply sections where the white card showed through, and this is particularly remarkable with the first painting shown below - A white swan with no white paint? Yes, it's true!
Isle of Wight paintings
The next set of four paintings are mentioned in the short autobiography on the first page, and depict various scenes on the Isle of Wight. Dad had intended these to be printed as part of a calendar, and I'm not sure whether he meant to add to them until there was one for each month of the year, or whether each picture would service three months. Perhaps one day I shall get round to printing them.
The pictures are all of quite well-known landmarks, but from unusual angles. For example, the driftwood on the beach shows Bembridge Fort in the background, the one with the stile and the snowy scene are both Niton Undercliff, and the Needles can be seen in the distance. The Jackdaws are sitting on a fencepost on Chillerton Down. You may have to take my word for the above, because I'm not sure whether these details will show up on the little scans included here. The snowy scene is actually the preliminary rough painting, although the finished painting is very similar - just finer detail.
Every so often, Dad would start drawing something, then scrap it because he didn't like the way it was going. I got into the habit of periodically sifting through the bits of card and paper in his bin, to find small gems that I thought deserved a better fate. One such find was this little bird, which had been discarded before his legs had been drawn in. Usually, if Dad discovered the results of my furtive salvage operations, he would write something on them, like "Rescued by Sarah" or "Under Protest". In the case of this hapless (and legless) bird, when I pleaded to him to finish it off, he picked up a pencil... and this was the result.... Very funny, Dad!
I was contacted a little while ago by someone who had bought a scraperboard picture at a local house clearance shop near where we used to live in Surrey. The chap who bought it had discovered a very tiny signature on the picture and followed it up by finding this website and contacting me to see whether I was interested in buying it from him. He didn't have to ask twice! I was intrigued to know the history of this little piece of artwork, as scraperboard was not my Dad's favourite medium and he didn't use it very often. I'd never seen the picture before, but recognised the trug as one that Dad used to use for gardening at home. Since the picture had been discovered at a local house clearance shop, I can only assume that it was something that he did for one of our neighbours as a present. I did contact the shop, but they couldn't remember where it had come from, so I suppose I shall never know.... unless anyone out there recognises it of course - in which case, do tell!
Another of Dad's rather lovely creations is this little anvil, which I believe he made in a metalworking class - possibly when he was at school. It's a tiny thing, which I've photographed next to a 50p piece to give an indication of its size, but is accurate in every detail, and he used to use it sometimes for jewellery making. My blacksmith was very impressed!
I recently came across this self-portrait, which I think Dad must have penned in the early 60s. It was clearly in the days before he could even afford a proper desk and used to work on a home-made board. This so typifies the scene in his studio that I remember as a child. Dad would be working amid an absolute chaos of clutter, surrounded by bits of screwed-up paper, apple cores, reference material, paintbrushes and so on. He used to smoke in those days (although he gave up in his 50s), and would sometimes be so involved in whatever he was painting that he would forget he had a cigarette on the go, light a second one, putting the first behind his ear thinking it was a paintbrush. The ensuing stream of colourful words was a source of great education for my sister and myself!
The magic for me was that in the midst of all this detritus, a beautiful, intricate piece of artwork would be emerging.
I recently found a letter, written to my sister, in which Dad describes what happened after our dog, Gillie, was recovering from an operation to remove bladder stones. Although we were all worried about Gillie, Dad’s sense of humour shone through, and he included a little sketch to illustrate his description.