My recent posts have featured distant ancestors from the Fry and Horman-Fisher families: wealthy, privileged, aristocratic families, very different from my own. I have enjoyed discovering the delicate drawings and watercolours of my maternal grandfather’s relatives, Margaret Fry and Hephzibah Watson. However, I would like to turn the focus back to my immediate family for a while, for some contrast. Those genteel ladies and their friends would have received the finest private tutelage in the gentle arts of sketching and painting, so their accomplishments are hardly surprising. My Dad, on the other hand, came from a working class family in a poor district of Glasgow, and, like his 5 siblings, had left school and started work by the age of 14. None of them received any further formal education or training, but they were all artistically gifted. My uncles John and Robert painted (and sold) many lovely pictures in oils and watercolours (see here for an example of John’s work; here for Robert’s). My Dad’s preferred medium was the biro.
When inspiration hit – a certain scene, a special light, or just being in the mood – he would pick up a sketchbook and biro and draw what he saw. Holidays allowed him plenty of time for this hobby (here’s an example from our trip to Ireland in 1970), and of course we spent many of our childhood holidays at Derwen. The scene above is Dad’s impression of the front porch and gravel path of this lovely house, seen from inside. Here is a photograph of the same porch, with all of us in it; Dad, me, Auntie, Mum, and Brother 2 (Brother 1 was taking the photo with his Box Brownie camera):
Below is Dad’s sketch of the summerhouse, and the memory it evokes is so vivid that I can smell the sun-warmed creosote on those dark wooden planks:
Dad also sketched everyday scenes of our life at home. He was a city boy – a large part of his childhood was spent living opposite the infamous Glasgow ironworks known locally as Dixon’s Blazes – and preferred the bustle of city life to pastoral tranquility. This preference was reflected in his artistic taste; he favoured the busy scenes of a Lowry or Breughel, crowded with people, over the rural landscapes my mother preferred. Sometimes he liked to include a figure or two in his sketches, to show scale and a bit of activity. I was always happy to pose if asked me to, and concentrated hard on keeping still for those few minutes. Here are some of those domestic scenes from my childhood:
Beverley Brook ran past the end of our road; I nearly drowned in it when I was a toddler. My little friends and I spent many happy hours playing Three Billy Goats Gruff and Poohsticks on the bridge, or fishing for tadpoles and sticklebacks in the clear water. Dad has included 3 little girls swinging on the bridge in this sketch and I think that was me, my best friend Briony M. who lived next door, and Katie S. from up the road.
Dad’s sketches evoke far more vivid memories and emotions in me than a photograph ever could. I can see not only the familiar childhood scenes portrayed, but also Dad’s gentle smile as he is absorbed contentedly in his task. These two cheap drawing books of amateur, untrained sketches done with my Dad’s black biro are more precious to me than any Old Master could ever be.