Visitors to West House in Pinner Memorial Park can enjoy a collection of illustrations by eccentric artist and former resident, Heath Robinson. HANNAH BEWLEY reports
ALTHOUGH the late William Heath Robinson is best known for his drawings of bizarre contraptions and fantastical inventions, a new exhibition mixes his more serious work with his well-loved humorous streak.
The William Heath Robinson Trust has permanently loaned West House in Pinner Memorial Park a collection of mostly black and white illustrations of two contrasting subjects.
Scenes from Shakespeare’s plays including Henry V and a set of drawings entitled ‘How to Live in a Modern Flat’ hang alongside each other and show another side to the artist.
Curator of the exhibition and trustee for the William Heath Robinson Trust, Geoffrey Beare, said: “He managed to create a good balance between his humorous work and corporate work and the exhibition has to balance educating people and meeting their requirements about the artist.
“Relatively few people are aware of his serious work.”
The 66-year-old retired analyst for the Ministry of Defence has been writing books and researching the former Pinner resident since the 1970s and said this keen interest has helped keep his life ‘balanced’.
Mr Beare said: “I grew up in north west London, but it wasn’t really the local connection – it was coming across one of his books and being fascinated.
“It is impossible to tell what is my favourite, there is such variety. What I love about his work is that I am always finding new pieces, especially the advertising illustrations. There was such a wide range, from Hovis to industrial diggers.”
The grandfather-of-one and father-of-two said he got to know Heath Robinson’s daughter, June Brinsmead and her husband Denis, while he was writing a book in 1982.
After June died, Mr Brinsmead acknowledged her wishes and handed over the collection of drawings and art work to public ownership.
Mr Beare, who lives in Guildford, is author of The Illustrations of W Heath Robinson and The Art of William Heath Robinson and has edited collections of his humorous works.
William Heath Robinson was born in 1872 in Islington and followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming an illustrator. In his early career he worked on children’s books including Andersen’s Fairy Tales and other traditional classics.
After this, he moved on to creating his own books, mostly filled with strange inventions for obscure and humorous uses.
While enjoying considerable recognition for this, he put his skills to good use in the advertising industry and examples of his work are still being uncovered by Mr Beare and others.
Peter Higginson, William Heath Robinson’s great-nephew and chairman of the William Heath Robinson Trust, was born the same year his great uncle died.
The 67-year-old said: “My family always had fond memories of him and he was a very good-humoured
man. He would come down to breakfast with a lamp-shade on his head, deadly serious, and sit there wondering why everyone was falling about laughing.”
The professional art historian now works with Christie’s Education and said West House was the perfect place for the collection. We are hoping to get a permanent museum here as it is a brilliant collection and the richest one by a long way,” he added.
The Friends of West House is in the early stages of planning an additional building near the historic house to expand the capacity for exhibitions.
Judith Elliott, 77, manager at West House, said: “The exhibition has been going very, very well so far and has proved really popular.
“West House itself took such a huge amount of work and money but it has all been worth it so far. These latest illustrations, which we have on loan from the William Heath Robinson Trust, are really interesting.
“He lived in an era which not everyone will understand but he captures it so well. There are so many different facets to his work it is difficult to choose just one which stands out.”
l The exhibition will be running throughout the New Year until late February. To find out more see www.heathrobinson.org. Christmas cards from the artist and books by Geoffrey Beare are on sale in the West House shop.