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Brenda - the Artist

You may not know that Brenda was an artist in more ways than one... as well as the performing arts, she inherited a painterly artistic skill that ran through her family.

My grandfather, Angus Ellery, took up a career as a painter and decorator in his 20s, dragging his old handcart and tools around the streets of Penzance; that soon morphed into signwriting and painting pub signs (he had a natural affinity for pubs). His son Peter, Brenda's younger brother, showing similar flair, was the one that got sent to art college at Corsham in Bath; their parents couldn't afford to send both away, so Brenda, as the daughter, didn't get that chance - she was expected to marry... that was how the world worked for women in the 1940s. Peter, as well as forming a very successful studio pottery, also became an excellent artist.

However - before the fame or the weekly radio show, before the folk club and the amateur dramatics, it was oil painting that Brenda enjoyed as a lonely young wife and mum in Sennen in the 1950s. Our first house in Sennen was at Treeve Moor, down near Lands End; this view of the Longships Lighthouse from our garden was the first she ever painted.

Even when fully involved in writing, preparing and producing pantomimes in Sennen (and painting the scenery!), she insisted on taking her oil paints, brushes, boards (often improvised by my dad), easel etc, with her on every family picnic - of which there were many. Sometimes they would be finished off at home later - this one was of a gateway at the Goldherring Romano-British village site near Sancreed in 1958, where my dad was volunteering. The end result was a marvellous cache of paintings that I still treasure today. Each one is a memory of a blissful day out - and for her too, as I discovered later. Clearing the walls in her home of these paintings after she died, I discovered that for many of them, she had written on the back, years later, a brief paragraph with her memory of that day. My front room wall:

When her singing career took over, she was forced to abandon the painting for a number of years... but when her voice started to falter, she decided to take it up again - partly to try and earn some income from sales. She was too ill to sit outdoors and paint, so she asked me to drive her around to her favourite views, to take photos (they usually had to include a statuesque cypress tree), and together we toured around Penwith, and had a lovely time on sunny days out. (This painting of the Mount from Gulval is owned by Mic McCready.) She could then take herself up to her little painting chalet in the garden, and armed with the photos and a stack of boards, paint to her heart's content. She often gave paintings to friends - if you have one, I'd love to see a photo!

She could turn her hand to most artistic ventures. When the Pipers Folk Club started, she designed the Piper, drawing out the shape on the large plywood sheet for dad to cut out. She painstakingly designed her own 'Brenda' logo (at the top of this page). When working as a director at Tremaen Pottery, she designed little Brenda and John the Fish keyfobs. Although Peter did most of the designing at Tremaen Pottery, she also slipped in some 'Bosom pots' and wall plaques.

We were both members of the Canon's Town WI (started by me at Brenda's instigation in the 1970s), and following a move by Brenda for WIs in Cornwall to "twin" with each other, we arranged to twin with Carharrack WI, and arranged exchange visits. When it was our turn to 'host', we chose a zodiac theme, and Brenda spent hours drawing 12 intricate zodiac pictures and hangings to 'dress' the room (which I can't find at the moment - will add photos when I do).

Who knows what she could have achieved had she gone to art school!

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