After a journey everyone comes home with stories to tell their friends and family. Two days ago I returned from a short stay in Plymouth, a city in mourning. I understand how shaken the people of Plymouth still feel. Heart-shaped fireworks must have made a beautiful picture in the sky in tribute to those who lost their lives in the recent shooting.
My trip to Plymouth had been planned for weeks. I was there to revisit places I was taken as a child and by doing so, to help my 87-year-old-grandmother enjoy being back in a city that holds such a special place in her heart.
My grandmother is a Plymothian who still retains her strong West Country accent even though she has spent most of her life living in different parts of the country. Despite her living with vascular dementia, it was touching to see how certain memories came flooding back to her about specific buildings and parts of the city. We talked about this with staff from the Plymouth branch of the Alzheimer’s Society during an hour-long visit there with my grandmother. We are very thankful to them for their time that happy afternoon.
We also spoke about the therapeutic benefits of art and the success of a recent art workshop I had given for a dementia group of 12.
It was also a good experience being invited back to her school after a long gap of 71 years! The deputy head teacher of Devonport High School for Girls (DHSG) was kind to give her a tour of the school buildings, some of which had not changed since construction in the 1930s. They exchanged stories of former staff members and visited various classrooms. As my grandmother was in the framed photograph from 1948 still on display in the hall, it could be said that she had never really left the school. Happy memories!
We visited The Box, a very impressive museum and art gallery in Plymouth. It was there that I read it’s not unusual to meet someone in Plymouth who has a story about Robert Lenkiewicz. He was a controversial figure in the local art scene. I too have a story about him and I told this to Reuben, the son of Robert Lenkiewicz at his gallery in Ashburton last week. I really enjoyed meeting him, hearing about the work and life of his father, as well as seeing a whole selection of beautiful paintings on display, including those by Reuben’s talented brother.
He chatted with my grandmother too and said that he had played the guitar before in care homes. Hearing all these stories and receiving advice from someone as experienced in the arts as Reuben made my visit to Devon as memorable to me as it was for my mother being sketched 45 years ago by Robert Lenkiewicz.
I was delighted to read what Reuben had written on social media (copied below) since my visit to his gallery. I’d be pleased if he contacts me in the future with an opportunity to take part in a joint exhibition with other artists. We’ll keep in contact.
INSPIRED TO BECOME AN ARTIST: A Remarkable Story About The Power Of Art
I am always amazed at how often someone comes into my gallery with a story about my father Robert Lenkiewicz. The stories are always intriguing they can by emotional, funny or inspiring.
But this particular story would have made Robert very happy and it shows the positive influence he had on people’s lives.
It starts 45 years ago a mother visiting with her daughter spent a magical day on the Barbican in sunny Plymouth. The mother wanted a memory of their special day and to her surprise found the Robert Lenkiewicz studio offering pencil drawings for £3. But her daughter was scared and shy particularly of men with beards!
She managed to find her courage and she walked into the studio full of strange smells and paintings of beautiful and scary things. She never forgot this moment posing for a real painter in his magical artist’s studio.
They both left with a pencil drawing, a great story to tell and a memory of the importance of art.
The daughter grew up and had a son James Owen Thomas, who she told many times about her day in Plymouth and the remarkable artist and his paintings. She showed him the drawing she had of herself as a child and how she had been amazed by the strange bearded artist.
As James grew older the story inspired him to learn about art and painting and in time he became an artist himself.
So a few months ago I had an email from a young artist who told me the story I have just told you about how he was inspired by a family story and a drawing to become an artist himself.
We arranged for him to visit me at my gallery in Ashburton and to my great pleasure, James came to tell me all about his life as an artist and his amazing paintings and inspired work for charities and he introduced me to his mother and grandmother. They even brought to show me the drawing my father had done 45 years ago. They were very kind and a close family and I felt very honoured to have met them and inspired by James’ commitment to his art.