The art of the fairground
I have always been totally fascinated by the stunning designs seen at the old traditional fairground.
In fact, you could say that it's in my blood. You see, before the First World War my granddad, George Jackson - still a teenager at the time, left his parents and brother back in Doncaster, Yorkshire, and set out to find fame and fortune.
He headed to Norfolk; at that time one of the area's main industries was a small number of companies that manufactured fairground rides.
Well, my granddad didn't find fame and fortune. World events scuppered that scheme. In fact, he was shortly serving in the Royal Air Corps during WW1, but afterwards he was a traveler who toured the country with his 'dobbies' - a small fairground ride for children.
At that time, all fairground rides remained faithful to the old-style folk art decor and so I imagine - maybe fancifully - that this is the reason for my love of this particular style. Incidentally, although fame and fortune eluded him, he did find my grandmother who was employed playing the piano in a Great Yarmouth pub. They didn't let the fact that she was married to someone else bother them though and they ran off together in his caravan, complete with his livelihood - the dobbies. Hence, the Jackson name continues...
Ever wondered who creates these today?
Recently, I was fascinated to read about one of the artists who works today, creating new artwork in this genre and restoring old rides, trucks and trailers. As I was reading, I imagined that he was an old gnarled little chap, tentatively hanging on to the last vestiges of a long-lost craft.I was in for a surprise. You might be surprised too.
When I read the name, my impression that this was a wrinkled old bloke was reinforced. 'Joby', I reckoned, was a pet name for 'Job' - a good old-fashioned biblical name. You can see from the image just how wrong I was!Joby is a rather cool young guy in his thirties and is devoted to the work he does. Today, he is part of the family business - Carter's Entertainment - and the family travel in the good old tradition with their steam-driven, and highly beautiful, rides.I found a wonderful video of him explaining more about his work on the BBC website. It can't be embedded here, but use this link. Be amazed as you watch him work.
The image is a still from the video.
In the 1930s
On the video, Joby says - modestly- that his skills were widespread in Victorian times but they have simply died out.
That's certainly the case. In that era, all signs were hand-created. You'll remember that the origins of logos date back to the old days when much of the population was illiterate - a symbol showed what a business was in a graphical way. Some survive, such as the red and white striped barber's pole and the pawnbroker's brass trio of balls.
By the 1930s my traveling granddad George had settled down and lived in a proper house with my gran and their son. There he is on the right - my dad.
George, always an entrepreneur, had his own business. It was a small auto repair business and my dad worked for him. In the pic, taken at the workshop, I think my dad was about fourteen.
In his autobiography my dad recalls that they used a sign-writer by the name of Bill Sutton. Sign-writing was often needed on commercial trucks and delivery vans. Bill had been in WW1 and had been badly shell-shocked. This, added to the fact that he 'liked a drop to drink' meant that he was a mass of nerves, trembling and shaking all the time. However, when sign-writing, he had a totally steady hand and his work was perfect. Strange, eh?
Genealogy and water gypsies
One side of my family is composed largely of self-employed travelers and people to do with the booze business, which goes some way to explain why this Brit in Florida enjoys her evening glass of wine.
On the other side of the family, there were also travelers but these people were water gypsies, plying their trade on the canals of East Yorkshire and working from narrow-boats.
Which quite possibly explains why I like to sit on the waterfront dock with my glass of wine!But I have always been fascinated by another style - narrow-boat decoration. I see similarities between this and the fairground art. I realize that I live in paradise but I've always wanted a vacation on a canal narrow-boat. The funny thing is that I've checked out their floor plans and they have more space than my teeny tiny apartment. Take a look at the photographs on this page - can you see the similarities between fairground and water gypsy styles?
Every time I browse the books at Amazon I'm amazed at the huge variety of subjects there. If you'd like to learn more about the topics in this article, here are some great finds. These traditions are very popular now and thanks to people like Joby, will hopefully never die out.
Peter Croft and Rolls Royce
Joby isn't alone in his craft. Traditional signwriter Peter Croft hand-paints the coach-lines on selected Rolls Royces before they leave the factory. .Peter tells the story about how one customer, a prince in Dubai, took delivery of a Roller that wasn't one of Peter's specials. His friends' cars were however. So Rolls Royce flew Peter, and his materials, to Dubai to hand-paint the coach-lines. Now that's class.
Peter reminds me of Joby - they both have an immense but quiet pride in their craftsmanship.
This is a lovely book about canal art which, I believe, is so closely related to that of the fairground. Boats like this can still be seen in the UK today and are popular with holidaymakers - there's nothing like drifting from pub to pub in a highly decorated narrowboat!
© 2013 Jackie Jackson