Artistic help put Frank on path to be older master

Frank Thomson always wanted to be an artist but his parents refused to let him. Now, thanks to a community arts project in Yorkshire Frank has had his first exhibition aged 84. Catherine Scott reports.

Frank Thomson

In his bungalow in Rossington, with his drawing table in front of him, 84-year-old Frank Thomson smiles as he talks of his artistic journey.

Born and bred in the region with a passion for art Frank fell out with his parents who pushed him to study engineering at college when he wanted to take art.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

As it was he left school and joined the army.

“I’ve had an interest in painting all of my life. It was only landscapes that I painted; I’d go out to the countryside and paint what I could see. I did this for years and years,” explains widower Frank.

“My parents didn’t think that studying art was something I should do and we had a real fall out over it. They pushed me into engineering. I left school and joined the army but I’ve always painted.

“I was not a professional I just painted for pure enjoyment. “

When Frank’s wife died, 20 years ago, he got into abstract painting as a way of coping with his loss.

“ It was really emotional painting and it helped me to deal with my grief.

“As I got older it became more and more difficult to get out and about so I started drawing pictures copying from photographs. I had attempted portraits many times over the years but I just couldn’t get them right and the results were terrible.”

This is when Frank discovered the Right Up Our Street project and Rossington Arts supporter, Katherine Warman. Katherine had been drawing people’s portraits in Rossington and giving them away for free. She held an exhibition of those portraits ‘Outline’ at a local cafe, the Market cafe late in 2013. Frank went along to a Drop-in Drawing session in March 2014 and Katherine drew his portrait at Holmescarr Library the following month.

“One day I attended a drawing session at the Rossington community centre and thanks to the advice of Katherine and Dave Smith something just clicked. Dave is another local artist working in Rossington, who delivered some of the drawing sessions. Between them the advice and tuition they gave me put me on the right path and suddenly the portraits looked how I wanted them to look.

“The help the two of them gave me put me straight with a problem I’d struggled with for 60 years.”

At last, Frank could create the portraits he longed to paint.

“It led me to drawing portraits of my family and a portrait I painted of my great granddaughter, Emma, has been on display at the Doncaster gallery – that was a very proud moment for me.”|

For Frank art is far more than just a hobby.

“It’s true to say that art has kept me going. Drawing occupies my time and there isn’t a day that I don’t sit at my drawing table.

“The Right Up Our Street team introduced me to pencil drawing, I’d always painted up until then, but now I can pick up a pencil and sketch something.

“I’ve recently got a tablet and am trying to work my way around that and working out how I can use it for drawing.”

Katherine Warman, arts supporter for Rossington, says she also get a lot out of the project.

“It was great to meet Frank and help him develop his skills.

“We were so proud when his portraiture artwork was selected for Doncaster Art Gallery’s ‘Open Art’ Exhibtion in October 2014.

“We’ve met and worked with some fantastic characters through this project and are looking forward to another year of community inspired art in Doncaster.”

In 2013 Doncaster was awarded funding from the Arts Council England’s Creative People and Places scheme to deliver creative projects across the borough and develop community arts. Right Up Our Street was formed to help Doncaster people with choosing, making, seeing and sharing brilliant cultural ideas. From poetry to performance, film to radio, sculpture to design, technology to physical activity, the Right Up Our Street team has worked with the people of Doncaster to make all sorts of art and performance happen in surprising and exciting ways.

Elaine Hirst, Action Research lead and lead for strand A of Right Up Our Street, said: “We’ve recorded over 40,000 participations with Doncaster residents, which means that many members of our communities have taken part in arts-based activities.

“Right Up Our Street has commissioned performances including Only Water Between, which is written from the letters exchanged between a Balby couple in the First World War, held both indoor and outdoor cinema events in Mexborough, open mic nights, large-scale arts projects which have seen the community in Rossington come together to make a commemorative quilt and the community in Balby make a Field of Poppies, which has been displayed outside the library.

“We are pleased to have brought ‘art’ to people’s lives and it is the stories of the difference this project has made to people’s lives that really matter.”

Frank is one of many people who have participated in community events. His bungalow is a testament to his years of painting and drawing with landscapes and more recent works featuring family in pride of place.

“Having a hobby like drawing or painting means that you’ve always got something to do. I make sure I keep my body fit by going on my exercise bike but I keep my mind fit by drawing.

“I’m so glad I went along to the community centre for the drop in drawing session as it has given me a new skill and one which has seen my work hung in a gallery, not bad for an 84-year-old!”