Lawson Wood links with Sidmouth's past

WHILE Sidmouth is lucky to have had its own historian and diarist - Peter Orlando Hutchinson - during Victorian times, the town has links with some other famous names from the past.

WHILE Sidmouth is lucky to have had its own historian and diarist - Peter Orlando Hutchinson - during Victorian times, the town has links with some other famous names from the past.

These include scientist Sir Alexander Fleming, Sir Norman Lockyer; who discovered helium and founded his observatory on Salcombe Hill, Frederick Lindemann, Churchill's chief scientific advisor, and authors Ron Delderfield and Stephen Reynolds.

Another name can also be associated with Sidmouth, that of painter, illustrator, caricaturist and designer Lawson Wood, who retired to Sidmouth and died here at the age of 79 in 1957.

Sidmouth Museum, which re-opens tomorrow (Saturday, April 4) in time for Easter, has a collection of his artwork, some of which has been used on posters advertising its opening hours.

Clarence Lawson Wood was born in Highgate, London, in 1878, the son of Lewis Pinhorn Wood and grandson of Lewis John Wood RI, both well-known Victorian artists.

Lawson - he soon dropped the hated first name - trained at Slade School and Heatherley's and attended classes at the Frank Calderon School of Animal Painting.

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Aged 18 he joined the staff of periodical publisher C Arthur Pearson Ltd., where he worked for six years. During this time he met his future wife, Charlotte Forge, whom he married in 1902.

At 24 he turned freelance and forged a successful career for himself as a fine illustrator, cartoonist and watercolourist, his work adorning pages in The Sketch newspaper, The Graphic, The Illustrated London News, Punch and Boys Own Paper.

He also illustrated books, including The Invaders by Louis Tracy, in 1901.

By 1906; the year Charlotte gave birth to twins, Wood's comic style was at its best and he was particularly noted for his 'prehistoric' humour, pairing Stone Age humans with caricatures of dinosaurs.

As a member of the London Sketch Club, Wood became close friends with its most famous member Tom Browne. He was also elected a member of the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours, showing with Walker's Galleries and Brook Street Art Gallery as well as at the Royal Academy.

During World War One, he served as an office in the Kite Balloon Wing of the Royal Flying Corps, plane-spotting from a balloon; one of the war's most dangerous jobs and one the French decorated him for, for his action over Vimy Ridge.

During his active service Lawson Wood continued to draw and his patriotic designs were published through Dobson Molle & Co.

War over and Wood became a regular visitor to London Zoo and a small menagerie in Eastbourne called the Wannock Tea Garden.

Perhaps his best-known works were his humorous illustrations of animals, particularly the ape Gran'pop, drawn for The Sketch. Having retained the copyright on his creations Wood was able to sell reproductions around the world.

He became so successful in America that he was asked to prepare animated cartoons for Hollywood, but production of an animated film of his ginger ape character was interrupted by the Second World War.

He did, however, open a factory to make wooden toys, called The Lawson Woodies that he designed, and the ape featured on postcards, posters, puzzles, playing and cigarette cards and many other items.

Wood also produced a series of small format illustrated books under the Mr and Mrs title, similar to those published by Beatrix Potter; another to enjoy holidays in Sidmouth.

He was recognised not just in artistic circles, but for his active work with animals and their welfare, and in 1934 was awarded a fellowship of the Royal Zoological Society.

He set up his own sanctuary for old animals.

For most of his life Wood lived and worked in Groombridge, Kent, but eventually retired to Sidmouth and died on October 26, 1957.