Monday, December 1, 2008

Exploring Grandfather's Paintbox. I

A Story in Five Chapters, illustrated on ‘Flickr’.

Chapter I


I opened a nearly full tube of Winsor & Newton Artist’s Oil Colour. It was a small tube of Scarlet Vermillion. Under the cap the threads were quite clean and a gleam of oil winked from the neck of the tube. I squeezed a little onto the brush, where it lay fresh, smooth and brilliant. It gave me the oddest feeling; as if the paint had been waiting for me. Waiting.

I travelled back in time recently - to nineteen thirty-eight. Not so long ago, not so far away; still in living memory, just. Far enough away and long ago to me though, for I had not been born yet.

Let me explain. A few years ago I was privileged and delighted to find myself in possession of my father’s father’s paintbox. I had not even been aware that Grandfather Henwood’s painting kit still existed until it was shown one day to my sister, who was visiting our cousin in Ireland. They thought that perhaps I would like to be the custodian of this artefact from our family history, and so it was brought to me. I was able to see and touch the paints and brushes my ancestor had used. This had great significance to me, because I never knew my paternal grandfather. He departed this world shortly before I arrived in it. Now I felt in contact with him.

I know my family’s history, so William Hall Henwood is not a stranger to me. He was born in the middle of the nineteenth century, and at the age of fifteen he went to work in the Bank. That was not an early age to start employment in those days – my other grandfather began working at the age of twelve; but that is another story. “He should really have gone into the Church” my father mused one day, but instead Grandfather Henwood served faithfully in the Bank for forty-nine years and five months, finally retiring in nineteen twenty-six at the age of sixty-five .

According to my father, he then invested in a dozen art lessons and promptly began to paint. Over the next twelve years he painted (as far as I can estimate) probably about fifty pictures. He painted in oils, mostly on wood panels, though occasionally on canvas boards too. His interest was the English landscape, and from the paintings that I and other close family members own or have seen, he painted chiefly from the countryside round about where he had lived most of his life, the area of northern Essex; the woods, ponds and gently rolling country where lies Epping Forest. His paintings were uniformly small, ten by fourteen inches. After coming into possession of his paintbox I came to realize that this size was a function of the box, which was a travelling kit, designed to be taken into the field.

I decided to thoroughly study this fascinating artefact and family heirloom, and when I did so I discovered there was more to it than immediately met the eye. That gave me the idea of writing down a full inventory and description of what I had found. But as I gradually spent more time investigating the box and its contents, my thoughts began to range wider. And when I dug out and re-read some treasured old letters which have come down to me, and reviewed once more the course of my grandfather’s life, I began to understand him better. So this story could also be called, if you like, - ‘A Tour around my Grandfather’.

No comments: