My love affair with wildlife art started half a century ago. My parents had come in from shopping, clutching a large framed print from Boots to fill a space on the lounge wall. The picture turned out to be of a huge, solitary bull elephant, standing in sunlight against a rain laden Kenyan sky. I was amazed at the texture of the elephant’s skin, the position and shape of its ears and the way light and shadow played over its body. This picture, Wise Old Elephant by David Shepherd, became the best selling print of its era and the only picture my parents ever bought. Little did I know then that my interest in wildlife art had been born and would continue for the rest of my life.
By the time I was in my twenties, I was a young primary school teacher with little money. However, a chance visit to an art gallery in Yorkshire led to my first art purchase, a small water colour of a badger. Other subjects by the same artist followed over the years: fox, otter, red squirrel and stoat. Each was well painted and relatively cheap, and, having initially spread them through my home, gradually they became grouped in one bedroom. My first collection was formed.
Into my thirties, promotion and a little more money. One day my wife and myself heard about Nature in Art at Twigworth and its collection of wildlife art. We fitted a visit into a return trip from Scotland and were wowed by the variety and quality of work from around the world. The artist in residence was Gary Hodges. An expert in pencil, Gary spends hundreds of hours working on his pictures of exotic mammals ranging from zebra to snow leopards. Gary was charming to talk to, but the originals were too expensive for us. However, we were introduced to limited edition prints and came home with two, one each, a serval and an owl butterfly. The second collection was in progress.
Over the following years many exhibitions were visited, we queued, we talked to lots of friendly people who were passionate about wildlife and its art, and when we could, we bought more prints. The hall, downstairs toilet, stairs and landing were filled. Hippo, rhino, oryx, and many other African mammals were purchased and proudly exhibited. I wanted to know more about these species and so we began to go on safari.
Trips to Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Zambia and Namibia have followed. Each, has brought fantastic memories of wonderful creatures, scenery and people, each relived whenever I look at our art collection.
Into my forties and a new young artist was discovered. Keen to know about our trips and the wildlife seen and photographed, we became good friends. She hadn’t been to Africa and so I started to give her copies of my photos to use as reference. Her skill is immense, particularly in the life she can produce in the eyes of the big cats.
More originals were purchased, some being interpretations of actual animals we have seen. Consequently, the lounge filled with a charging juvenile elephant that we had photographed in Samburu. A cheetah, who had sat on our jeep in the Mara, (And whom many of you will know as Kike of Big Cat Diary), adorns the mantelpiece, and the leopard , who unbelievably rested by our jeep in the Kruger, allowing us to take superb close- ups, had to overspill into the downstairs study.
We went to more exhibitions, bought more originals of big cats, sometimes helped on the coffee or wine table, and continued to meet lovely people from all walks of life, but with a common interest of seeing and buying the best of wildlife art.
My fifties approached and, after a trip to Tanzania, in which an agama lizard ended up staring at me from my bedside table at five in the morning, another collection was born. Upon returning home, there in a gallery window was a print of my agama. Brilliantly drawn, I went inside to be introduced to David Dancey Wood. As with all artists I have been fortunate enough to meet, he was friendly, good humoured and passionate about his art and conservation in general. I started collecting some of his prints, again of exotic creatures which I had been fortunate enough to see in Africa.
Then, I came across an original of a rock hyrax. We had seen these creatures on numerous occasions, including by the pool, beneath our sunbeds, in the Mara. My wife and myself went halves on it and our days of buying his originals had begun. Sandcat, cheetah, vervet monkey looking just like the one that trashed our tent in Samburu, and bat-eared fox followed. Each beautifully crafted with every hair in place and with the surrounding habitat minutely reproduced.The remaining room has filled with these fantastic examples of an artist at the top of their profession.
But now all the walls are filled and I know that there are going to be more pictures that I will be tempted by. So, do I start to sell the prints to create space, do I rotate them or do I need an extension? I know other collectors face the same situation but has anybody got a satisfactory solution? Perhaps I can overspill onto the blank walls of my mother’s retirement flat. Apart of course, from the space filled by a solitary bull elephant, that started my passion all those years ago.