Sea History 073 - Spring 1995

Page 26



Kenneth Shoesmith Merchant Sailor and Marine Artist By Martyn Anglesea


ate in 1974, the Ul ster Museum in Be lfas t received fr om the ex ecutors of the late Mrs. Sarah Shoesmith the offer of a bequest of pictures by her husband, who had di ed in 1939. On inves tigating thi s offer, it was fo und that M rs. Shoesmith 's large house at Marino on the shores of Be lfas t Lough contained a very large quantity of wo rk by a remarkable arti st, whose name had all but sun k into obli vion. In addition to about two hundred paintings, mostl y in watercolor, there was a mass of graphic mate ri al, posters, postcard s, leafl ets, menu cards, designer's layo uts, sketchbooks and the like-presumabl y the entire contents of hi s studio, practica ll y unto uched since the time of hi s death thirty-fi ve years before. The fac ts about Shoesmith began qui ckl y to crys talli ze: he was an arti st who had fo rmerl y been a seaman; he had wo rked a great deal fo r the Royal Mail 24

Line and fo r Southern Rai lways; and he had painted some large decorati ve mura ls on board the Queen Mary. Also he was complete ly self- taught. Born in Yorkshire, Shoesmith was bro ught up in Blac kpoo l, where as a boy he fo ll owed a correspondence course organi zed by T. R. Ablett of the Royal Drawing Soc iety from 1902 to 1908. " I have been fo nd of draw ing ever since I was o ld eno ugh to ho ld a penc il ," Shoesmith to ld a newspaper correspondent in 1936. " In fac t, it was my craze for draw ing shi ps that made me adopt the sea as a profess ion . . .. I was sent to that uni versity of so many fi ne sail ors, the tra ining ship Conway." From 1906 to 1909, S hoesmi th was a cadet on HMS Conway, a surviv ing wooden-wall ed battleship, then based at Rock Ferry near Bi rkenhead. " In those days the Mersey affo rded an end less pageant of lovely ships," reca lled Shoesmith , "and most of

my leisure on the Conway was spent in watching them and try ing to get them down in my sketch book." Even at thi s early age hi s work did not go unnoticed. Ablett ev ide ntl y regarded him as one of hi s most talented charges. Ab lett later wro te in a Royal Draw ing Soc iety publication, dated 19 11 : " Hi s work has bee n mu c h ad mi re d b y p rofess iona l sa i Io rs, admi ra ls, fl aglie utenants, and the li ke, because he is so true to nature, and one has onl y to examine carefull y the sw ish of the water prod uced by the fas t-mov ing vessel, to see how c lose is hi s observation of mov ing ag itated sea, and how fac ile he is in descript ion." In 1909 he joined the Roya l Mail Company as aju niorofficeraboard RMS Avon. Now, in his own words, he "had an even wider scope. In the harbors of the Far East and at sea in the No rth and South Atlanti c I was constantl y excited SEA HISTORY 73, SPRING 1995