Chris Wadsworth
Percy Kelly - Looking East to the Ennerdale Fells
Writer and Art Consultant

28th June 2013


Burgh Marsh. oil on canvas

This is the saddest newsletter I have written. Artist June Bennett died of cancer on Wednesday, 2 days after her 78th birthday. Those of you who knew her will remember a beautiful petite woman, colourful, strong and elegant- full of life.

Our friendship and business relationship began 27 years ago before I opened Castlegate House as a gallery. I was on the hunt for artists for my opening show planned for July 1987. I clearly remember climbing the steep  stairs to her attic studio on the Solway where I discoveed a stack of vibrant, textured  oil paintings, some still wet - Red Chapel, Cumbrian Cottage, Solway Summer. I was captivated.  Until then she had been well  known as a brilliant silversmith but now her two sons Justin and Giles were grown up she had returned to her passion which was painting.  She was looking for somewhere to show her work. This was good timing for both of us. We were to work happily together for the next quarter century.

She promised 6 or 8 paintings for that opening show and by the end of the preview they were all sold. I tentatively asked her whether her subjects were imaginary - did Cumbrian Cottage and Red Chapel exist. She laughed and told me I'd driven past them several times on the way to the house. Next time I looked more carefully and recognised the dull brown brick building by the side of the road just outside the village as red chapel, and the white unremarkable bungalow near Burgh by Sands as her model for Cumbrian Cottage. She had transformed them and I saw them quite differently this time too. She has changed the way I see things. She has made me look.

The sea has always played a big part in June's life and work.She was born in Grange over Sands - one of four sisters. She met her husband Michael, a fellow Cumbrian, at Lancaster Art College and they went on to Leicester Art College together. After they married they lived in Leicestershire and Yorkshire until the late seventies when they moved back to Cumbria to a house on the cliff top at Seascale on the west coast.  Some years later they moved to their present home in Port Carlisle on the Solway coast.

I remember her ringing me excitedly after her second sell-out solo show at the gallery in 1989. She had a surprise for me - she wanted to call that evening to show me what she had done with the proceeds of the exhibition.  She drove into the car park with difficulty in a yellow camper van in  which - despite several cushions,  her feet barely reached the pedals. She made this her mobile studio  and had many productive years from it. Her tiny frame belied the strength of her work - and her mind. She was a very determined woman.

Her work is in the Government Collection, Tullie House, The Copeland Collection,  Lamont Pridmore and  Caraget and Cowan Board rooms and in collections, homes and businesses all over the world. This is her lasting legacy.

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