Julia Mear met Ann Jones in Colyton. This is her story.
‘I was born just before the start of the Second World War in Welbeck Street, London. At some point we moved to Purley in Surrey, very near to Croydon Aerodrome. Our house was requisitioned by the government for the troops. Mother was horrified on our return at the end of the war to find lots of holes bashed in the walls—it was a mess. We moved into our grandparents’ house just up the road. My grandmother was an artist and predicted that I would also become one. How true! She would often forget that she had invited guests to dinner and would still be painting when they arrived. Someone gave me an easel when I was young and I started painting. There were many air raids as we lived very near London. We would often have to run down to the air raid shelter built under a great earth mound at the bottom of the garden.
My Father was a Major in the Royal Corps of Signals serving in North Africa. My sister was born on his return after the war. My school was evacuated to Hinton St George in Somerset and the juniors had the Manor House in the village. We wore cloaks which we had to hang up in the cellars of the big house—it was quite scary.
My grandfather died when I was 15 years old and he had been paying for my education so that was when it came to an end. I left school and went to the South of France to study painting with the acclaimed artist Mme D’Aussy Pintaud in her home near St Jean de Luz. Her son-in-law was in business with my father which is how it all came about. Her house overlooked a little harbour and had huge walls covered with paintings and great big windows. Her husband was a zany guy who would drive through the village throwing money or sweets from the car window for the local children. He would take her paintings to the local cafés. I learnt French and so much about painting.
On my return to England I was still too young to go to Art School and my parents didn’t really know where to send me. I eventually ended up at Regent Street Polytechnic School of Art. It was absolutely terrific and I did what I’d always wanted to do—to paint, sketch, etch, sculpt, engrave—absolutely everything! It was such a wonderful experience for four years. I then went on to Brighton College of Art and took my teacher’s certificate so I could teach.
When a child we had a small family bungalow in Cornwall. Nothing glamorous but to us it was delightful—every holiday we went there. It was escapism for my father from the rigours of London. Mother would pack everything into our small car including the dog. I would often bring a friend. It would take hours to get there from London; there were no motorways or fast food stops then. We would always stop for a picnic on the way. I remember leaving my bag there once, I was a bit of a dreamy creature then; I suppose it was the artist in me—a kind lady found my bag and sent it back to me. These little acts of kindness still stay in my mind.
It was not surprising then that the West Country had a special place in my heart and to which I was to return to live and work. I became the Head of Art and Design at Colyton Grammar School and worked there for nearly thirty years. I met my husband Alan in a theatre show in Seaton Town Hall, an artist friend had introduced us and we sat next to each other. I thought he was very handsome. We often travelled back to his home in Wales. He had a funny little Ford car that broke down perpetually but he would just get under the bonnet and fix it each time. No Severn Bridges in those days! He also taught at the grammar school as Head of Biology and with a colleague, introduced Rugby football to the school for the first time.
We have four children Adrian, Lolo, Amry and Xanthe all now grown up and with their own families. We have seven grandchildren. We have also known a young student, Simon, since he was 11 and have always considered him part of our family as well. We often had students to stay from all over Europe and the Arab World. I taught them English to help make ends meet.
I remember our eldest son, when working at a friend’s farm during the school holidays, returning home with a little piglet—the runt of the litter. It lived some of the time in the kitchen near the Aga. Eventually a local farmer put some rings in his snout to try to stop the damage to our garden. ‘Willy Grout’, as we called him, strongly objected to this—the noise could be heard all over Colyton so we were told. Our house always seemed to be full of friends, animals, children, art and magic.
On our retirement—the children had all left home by this time—we enrolled on a painting holiday in a little hilltop village in Tuscany called Peralta. Alan had always wanted to paint and so I thought this would be a good opportunity for him. The couple who were running the painting courses saw my art work and invited me to become one of their tutors and so, for many years after that, we had a huge amount of fun staying in various châteaux in France and amazing places in Italy. Hard work for me, but all thoroughly enjoyable.
Peralta was built up from the ruins of a tumble down settlement by the sculptor Fiore de Henriquez. She had funded her project by lecturing in the UK, US and Japan. She was internationally famous having sculpted the Queen Mother, Augustus John and President John F Kennedy. She became a close friend and visited us in Colyton. A striking figure, well over six feet tall, with long knee length boots, floppy hat and a cigar in hand, she turned many heads as she strode through Colyton. One of the three portraits I painted of her is still on display in her large studio gallery in Peralta overlooking the beautiful Tuscan hills. Sadly she died a few years ago.
I’ve been painting portraits since I was a little girl. I prefer painting to drawing. I love colour and the very smell of oil paint seems to inspire me. I became an Academician and Trustee of the South West Academy of Fine and Applied Arts and for many years I was the chair of its highly successful Young Artists’ Committee. We held numerous Schools Exhibitions in the Phoenix in Exeter and other West Country venues.
I enjoy painting colourful personalities and often paint more than one portrait of the sitter. Lord Bath of Longleat and the astronomer Sir Patrick Moore were two wonderful characters that I painted in their homes. I normally start the painting with the sitter in front of me and then work on it in my studio. People have such busy lives and time is often limited.
Alan became a member of the Magic Circle many years ago. We often visit magic events and conventions where I just sit in a corner and draw. I painted the late Ali Bongo when he visited us in Colyton. He was a former President of the Magic Circle. His portrait hangs in the headquarters of the Magic Circle in London.
Recent portraits have included the three young children of a man I painted when he himself was only three years old. Last year I had the privilege of painting an oil portrait of Captain Jon White and his family. Jon lives in his beautiful self-build home in Devon. A Royal Marine who lost limbs in the conflict in Afghanistan and a truly brave and inspirational character.
People painting has filled my life and given me great joy and, I hope, provided a lasting memory of a ‘special moment in time’ for all of my sitters of all ages.’