A lifetime's paintings being sold in aid of the NHS
- Credit: Courtesy of James Merriott
It was an invitation, dropped on to Jim Merriott's doormat, that marked the start of a long creative relationship between the artist and the readers of Hertfordshire Life.
Jim remembers that red letter day in 2005 when he was asked to become the magazine’s resident artist: 'It was exciting to be asked to send photographs of some of my paintings of local villages to the editor for the ‘Win a watercolour’ competition column and through the ensuing years, my wife Joan, who is a superb photographer, and I have met many readers and made friends in the wonderful places we have visited in Hertfordshire.'
Jim and his younger brother Steve began visiting Hertfordshire in their teenage years for a carefree day of fishing.
'At the time, we lived in London’s East End and the contrast of our home in Bow opposite the asbestos factory with the river Lea at Broxbourne and Cheshunt – was amazing. We’d buy our early morning workmen’s tickets at Liverpool Street station at 6am and, armed with our fishing gear, get off the train at Cheshunt set for a happy day in the countryside.'
Born in 1941 in Clapton, east London, Jim's talent for painting runs in the family. His uncle Jack Merriott was a renowned landscape artist famous for his iconic posters created for British Railways and the General Post Office.
But is was something more dynamic that Jim trained for - to be a fire-fighter with London Fire Brigade. But in 1971 his career was cut short when he was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, an illness he has battled ever since.
'Joan and I were a young couple with two small children and I really wondered how we were going to manage. But to cope with both pain and disability, I turned to my love of art and developed a passion for portraying some of the lovely places I’d visited, mainly in Suffolk, to where some of the family were evacuated during the war. I’ve always loved old buildings and began sketching and painting them, wherever I happened to be.'
While painting was therapeutic, it didn't pay the bills, and with the support of the rheumatoid arthritis specialist, Dr Geoffrey Clarke at Romford's Oldchurch Hospital, Jim left the fire brigade and joined the Ford Motor Company, working in a security job in Brentwood. His Ford colleagues appreciated his imaginative Christmas cards, depicting the lovely country villages that he and Joan visited in Hertfordshire, the proceeds of which raised money for a medical charity helping arthritis sufferers.
With retirement on the horizon, Jim began painting full-time and even taught the subject. 'When I was asked to contribute to Hertfordshire Life, I was honoured and still love every minute. I reckon I have painted more than 3,000 watercolours since then, and still have in excess of 500 in my home gallery in Hutton. I also have cards and books that I have written over the years.'
This artist demands of himself speed of execution to obtain the best results. His work has always involves visiting the subjects he depicts, and wherever possible, he paints from life. In his 80th year he is still busy, even though he has stayed safely at home over the past challenging year.
He is especially enthusiastic about his new project which is dear to his heart. 'Now I feel the time has come for giving something back to our beloved NHS staff who have helped us all over the last year and particularly me in my years of illness. I would love to meet readers at Ingatestone Hall near Chelmsford through the coming months where I will have my entire collection of artwork, cards and books for sale in exchange for donations to benefit NHS patients and staff.
'Each painting I donate will have a special stamp on the reverse saying 'Sold in aid of the NHS' and signed Jim Merriott R.A. (Rheumatoid Arthritis!).
Featuring woks painted over the past 40 years of Herts, Essex and beyond, Jim Merriott's final exhibition in aid of the NHS takes place at Ingatestone Hall near Chelmsford, Essex on Wednesdays, Sundays and Bank Holidays from midday to 5pm from May to September. Jim will be at the exhibition on May 23, 30, 31, June 20, 27, August 1, 4, 8, 11, 15, 18, 22, 29, 30 and September 11, 12, 19, 29. For further details, call 07526 936408 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
There is also a Virgin Money Giving page, search Jim Merriott at virginmoneygiving.com