War artist’s stunning local views

Kevin Gordon - SE 1 March 2013
Kevin Gordon - SE 1 March 2013

Alfriston and Cuckmere Valley Historical Society is known for its excellent speakers and this year is no exception.

The society has announced its speakers for the forthcoming season, starting with two lectures on Thursday 21st March at 7.30pm.

The first lecture is about free thinking revolutionary, Tom Paine and his time in Lewes between 1768 and 1774.

The second lecture is about a well loved internationally acclaimed local artist Frank Wootton who is fondly remembered for his stunning aircraft pictures and beautiful local views.

Frank Wooton was born in Hampshire but studied at the Eastbourne School of Art where Eric Ravilious was one of his tutors. He became a successful commercial artist. His commissions included BOAC and Shell Oil and he travelled extensively, not only recording oil facilities but also producing sketches for advertisements. He moved from London down to the Sussex village of Alciston where he rented and renovated a country cottage.

On the outset of the war Frank volunteered for the RAF and, as he was known for hisaircraft pictures, he applied to be a war artist. Frank by this time had written a book “How to Draw Aircraft” which had been tremendously successful, selling out in just two weeks.

Unfortunately, the panel to select war artists was headed by Sir Kenneth Clark who did not like his work. Luckily someone in the RAF did like his work and that was Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh Mallory who was arranging the airborne assault for D-Day. He asked Frank to record the event and despatched him to Normandy.

He recorded the gliders that landed at Pegasus Bridge near Caen, virtually the first part of mainland Europe to be reoccupied. On one occasion he was painting a damaged Mustang aircraft when a piece of enemy shrapnel ripped through his canvas. He calmly repaired it and finished his work.

He later flew to India and then the Far East where he found himself in Burma on VJ Day.

One of Frank Wooton’s mentors was Sir Alfred Munnings, who himself was a war artist during the First World War.

After the war Munnings encouraged Frank to paint horses and this subject became a favourite – indeed several paintings combined his three great loves; horses, aircraft and the Sussex Downs.

Frank was a founder member and later president of the Guild of Aviation Artists and his works were exhibited internationally including London, Washington and Alfriston! Frank,(somewhat belatedly) was appointed OBE in 1995 and was particularly pleased that the citation read “For services to the RAF”.

In 1983, the National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC exhibited more than 50 of his paintings in an exhibition that lasted for a year.

Frank’s paintings were also displayed at the Alfriston Gallery and he became firm friends with Tom and Norma Dalglish, who ran the gallery for 16 years.

Tom remembers Frank in his tidy Alfriston studio, always smartly dressed with a collar and (RAF) tie.

My parents knew Frank and his wife Jinny and they were given several signed prints, but my mum’s favourite is a small hastily drawn portrait of her dressed like an acorn alongside a short verse.

However, it is Tom who will be presenting the talk to the Alfriston & Cuckmere Valley Historical Society.

He had a personal working relationship with Frank and his talk promises not only examples of his beautiful paintings but also some amusing and personal anecdotes about this great artist.

This event is just the first in a series of varied but informative historical lectures.

For information about joining the Alfriston Historical Society contact the membership secretary, Cheryl Lutring on 01323 870977 or email her at crl3@btinternet.com