Caerleon Net

I Was Edgar Maybery's 'Apprentice'

Alan Whitmore remembers staying in a boarding house run by
Mrs Maybery in Weymouth. For a fortnight the twelve year-old
helped Edgar Maybery in his studio. Alan's memory of those days
is still crystal clear after more than half a century...


At the age of about 12 years in the early 1950s I was on a fortnight's holiday with my parents; we stayed at No.3, Carlton Road North, Weymouth. It was the kind of little side street boarding-house one would find at a seaside resort at that time and was run by a Mr. & Mrs. Maybery.

Mr. Maybery kept a very low profile; what he did was a complete mystery, none of the guests had ever seen him. Seeing the numerous seascape paintings in the house some even 'whispered' about him working at the nearby Portland naval base.

Mrs. Maybery seemed to be the one in charge and was always busy with housework, cigarette in one corner of her mouth, eye closed to keep the smoke out and at least an inch of ash hanging as she laid out the table for breakfast in the mornings; the cornflakes were almost counted into the dishes - with the occasional fragment of ash! At dinner in the evening it was Brown Windsor soup, meat and two veg with the plate always piled high with mashed potato followed by treacle pudding and custard. Dad always joked when we saw her going out with a huge shopping-bag that she was going up to the local 'spud' field she owned! Seriously the impression we seemed to get - the Mayberys were barely scraping a living!

Fortunately for me as a young lad and suddenly realising that girls weren't all that bad, I discovered there was a granddaughter of my own age from Jersey who had come over on the daily 'tomato ferry', the "St. Patrick" or Saint Andrew" for the summer holiday to give Gran, a hand with the chores; I can't remember her name but we became good friends -and yes - I experienced my first real kiss - not like one from Auntie, one I didn't want to wipe off on the back of my hand!

The one thing that 'hit you' as you entered that old Victorian house in Carlton Road was this enormous oil painting of a very rough sea hanging on one wall of the hallway; beautiful shades of green plus the 'white horses' on the peaks of the waves. My mother being rather queasy always looked at the opposite wall as we walked in! A pencil-drawn portrait of one of the granddaughters hung in the dining room; the shine in the child's blonde hair was so realistic that Dad was prepared to bet that it was a photograph - he lost!

Being young and inquisitive I explored this lovely old house; one of the upstairs landings seemed to have a certain whiff of 'turps' and paint; with Dad being a painter and decorator I was no stranger to it so I presumed that possibly a room was being redecorated. One morning a door suddenly opened and there stood this 'positively ancient gentleman' wearing a paint spattered overall jacket; he was cleaning a couple of very slim, long-handled brushes in a turpentine-soaked rag which explained the whiff! To this youngster he looked every bit an artist - only minus the beret! I nervously told him that I admired the painting in the hallway; he 'beamed' said it was his work and invited me into his studio to view his latest 'oil' he was just finishing. I was fascinated at how he took a blob of paint and 'stirred' it on the canvas until the right effect was achieved. He told me he was going to title it "The Crossroads" and there and then - he signed it - what a moment to remember! On the painting an old barn cast a shadow across the road and I couldn't help but ask, "How is it the road in the shadow still looks the same colour as it is in the sunshine"? He replied, "Good question - this is an artist's trick." and went on to show me how he created these colours with 'sploshes' of thick paint daubed onto a board with an old bone-handled dinner knife cum spatula; it came from tubes or even old rusty gallon-sized tins of thickening household paint. The theory of primary colours didn't seem to apply!

As the days passed, I was obviously going to be a pest; the 'crafty old bird' came to regard me as an 'apprentice' and gave me a few jobs to keep me from under his feet as he worked; I damped the floor to keep the dust down, swept up and scraped the hardened lumps of paint off the floor (and often out of my hair) - and most important of all, kept the teapot busy! Some days, I didn't see much of the sea -I was too busy! Mum and Dad went down to the nearby beach with their flask and sandwiches leaving me with something they knew I loved.

In conversation, I told Mr. Maybery I was interested in cartoon work; he smiled and said, "You have to 'capture' every detail in your mind and transfer it onto paper within moments." He took a soft pencil and scribbled away for a few moments and handed me a cartoon of a tiny lad looking up at an old man with a big nose! Sadly, due to having moved house several times I have lost that precious cartoon. Before returning home to Coventry, Mr. Maybery showed me how he created pictures on a metal plates then he picked up three old plates at random, inked them with a roller, wiped the surplus off and placed a sheet of special quality paper on top and getting me to turn this big handle, he pushed them through the metal rollers of this huge type of 'mangle'. Taking his pencil, he titled and signed the prints and handed them to me saying, "I have loved having your company - please take these - you never know, they might be worth something in the future."

"During your stay here; hopefully I have given you a love of art that will remain with you throughout the rest of your life…" adding, "Everyone has a natural talent, something they can do better than anyone else, but it's up to them to find what that talent is and put it to good use." - the best advice I have ever been given!

Above: the three etchings given to Alan by Edgar Maybery.
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