I grew up in the countryside where Herefordshire meets Worcestershire in the grounds of a boys boarding school where my parents had built a house in the 1970's and my mum was the art teacher. It was an amazing place - in Summers we were lucky enough to swim in the school's outdoor pool and swing through the trees on ropes. Christmasses were huge candlelit staircases wound with holly & ivy, choirboys, wobbly cello solos and the gaping jaws of a taxidermy tiger's head hanging on the wall who invited you to climb inside. The whole experience was nothing like my own of education and my two school-lives ran parallel. In 1998 the school closed down and was stripped of it's valuables for an auction in order to make repairs to the beautiful 19th Century building.
"The advent of the nanny state in Britain, with its endless rules and regulations, have made many activities at the school impossible. We cannot use our assault course because we've been told it is illegal and can't use the swimming pool as we have to have a fully-qualified life-guard. We've passed our sell-by date. We believe in bringing boys up to be self-reliant, self-disciplined and in pursuit of excellence. But we can't even let them go fishing alone now. Schools are now so regimented but we have always done our own thing with great success and have rescued many boys who found it difficult to behave and learn - yet we are regarded as eccentric." Mr Griffith, headteacher, interviewed in 1998.
In 2012 I was invited back to the school, now abandoned and un-lived in, to look through everything which is left and will be thrown away when the building is sold and redeveloped. Much of it is made up of small possessions; once owned by boys and forgotten about in time. A pair of barely worn size 5 Green Flash trainers belong to a man now in his 30's. One of my favourite re-discoveries was opening up the games cupboard - floor to ceiling shelves of dozens of chess sets, card games, jigsaws and toys - each box with every piece in tact, neatly put away nearly twenty years ago, without realising it would be for the last time.
Initially I was interested in much of the material for picture research, to make drawings from, to reference in collage, but without going into the obvious emotional connection I have with this school and many of the discoveries I have made, I felt I wanted to do justice to the collections on a bigger scale and celebrate them somehow, and perhaps one day they will even be re-discovered by their owners. I have selected and removed atlases, chalkboards, tennis balls, festival posters, vinyl records, toys, exercise books - most of which come in multiples, and some diaries which date back to as early as 1918. I continue to work with this material and the project is on-going.
I feel incredibly lucky; to have been a very, very small part of the experience while it was happening, and now to be able to reflect on it's details from what is now a long way away, with an illustrator's perspective - through both identifying their graphic value and in reconnecting objects with new narratives, influenced unavoidably, by my own personal history.