A very different picture from the one in my last post, with a very different story. This stunning study of zebras hung for decades in the hallway of our family home, and now hangs on my living room wall. A limited edition print, the original is a mural which covers one wall of the artist’s studio in Suffolk.
As previously mentioned, my parents originally shared their marital home with another couple, their close friends the Mathews. The house, a large detached Victorian house in Barnes, south west London, was divided into 2 flats, with my parents upstairs and the Mathews downstairs. I don’t remember this, as I was only about 1 year old when the Mathews moved out. My parents bought their share of the house, but with 3 small children to keep and 1 job between them, could not afford the payments. So our family moved downstairs, and the upstairs rooms were let to students (throughout my childhood I thought the word “student” meant “lodger”. Later we moved upstairs and let out the downstairs flat, so my childhood is neatly divided into “Upstairs” and “Downstairs” memories). These student lodgers came from all over the world and some of them stayed for years, becoming part of the family. There was Bessie, the African lady with the big smile; Yvonne, the beautiful artist’s muse; Mohji (?) from Egypt who was good at sketching; Mike, who took the boys for rides up and down the street on the back of his motorbike; Ted Yung from Hong Kong, who later sent his children to stay with my parents when they came to school here; numerous Hungarian girls; and Gerry Flanagan, the Irish hippie with the long flowing ginger hair and beard, who had notions of starting a commune in his tiny bedroom (this was the 1960s, after all). But the student who stayed the longest was Peter Chadwick, who lived in the attic.
Dad had converted the attic into a spacious bedroom with walk-in cupboards leading off it – perfect darkrooms for a student of photography. Peter lived with us for years while he was studying to be a photographer, and became a lifelong family friend (Brother 2 and I attended his wedding a few years ago). He was great with us kids and took some lovely studio portraits of us, which I still have. Through Peter we met his mother Lee, a wonderful woman who had taught at the progressive Summerhill School with his father, the artist Paxton Chadwick. As well as teaching, Lee had been a Communist party councillor in Suffolk, and wrote non-fiction books on subjects as varied as lighthouses, Cuba, and her beloved local heathland. (The Communist connection was not entirely coincidental, as I presume my parents advertised the rooms to let in the Morning Star).
Lee became one of my parents’ closest friends and we sometimes stayed with her in the home she and her late husband had built in Suffolk. This was a purpose-built artists’ studio surrounded by fields and heathland, a bungalow with light pouring in from every side. Paxton had painted this zebra mural along one wall of the hallway, and when Lee had a limited run of prints made she gave this one to my parents. I always loved it and am proud to have it hanging in my living room today, where it shares a wall with another Paxton Chadwick print, and a Peter Chadwick photograph:
More to follow about these pictures in future posts! The good photo of the zebra picture is thanks to Milton Grubert. The poor one above is down to me. Improvements to come…