A CELEBRATED artist has been sharing her memories as she marks 30 years since a major exhibition which shone the spotlight on some of Warrington’s unique characters.

Frances Broomfield has commemorated the milestone of The Story and The Fable with a short film as she looks back on the 12 paintings she specially produced for a show at Warrington Museum and Art Gallery.

Best known among Frances’s 1989 collection was a painting of George Formby, who lived in Stockton Heath, which was projected onto 30 landmark buildings throughout the UK as part of a BBC project.

She said: “Visitors to Warrington Museum and Art Gallery may already know my work because that painting is on permanent display, though they may not be aware that this picture was only one of a series of paintings of Warrington characters completed for my first solo exhibition.”

Other characters that Frances brought to vivid life included Charlie Lee, who used to sell oysters outside Barley Mow, rugby league superstar Jack Fish, cricketer George Duckworth, swimmer Sunny Lowry, who was the first from the north west to swim the English Channel, renowned pianist and composer Stephen Hough and community stalwart and ghost story writer Wally Barnes.

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Frances added: “Seeing the paintings from that 1989 show again brought back a lot of memories. I was living in London at the time when I was contacted by Cherry Gray, the arts officer at Warrington Museum, inviting me to have an exhibition.

“I decided to make it all about Warrington, and the stories of local characters I grew up hearing about.

“I did all the work for the exhibition within 12 months – I was used to meeting tight deadlines, having already had commissions to illustrate books and design book covers, including the original Colin Dann’s Farthing Wood series of children’s books.

“I was 38 at the time and had already started my career as an artist and illustrator.

“I had taken part in many group exhibitions since leaving art college in 1972 and I had been represented by the Portal Gallery in Mayfair since 1980. However, to have my first solo exhibition at the Museum and Art Gallery in my home town meant a lot to me.”

The project also saw Frances interview Sunny Lowry, George Duckworth’s sister Annie Bolton and Bill Rankin, a retired rugby player who remembered Jack Fish.

Frances said: “The thing I most remember about working on the show was the travelling back and forth between London and Warrington so many times, researching, interviewing people, taking photographs for the video, and then drawing and painting in my studio.”

When The Story and The Fable opened in Warrington it proved a big hit, taking up a whole floor at the gallery and attracting hundreds of people.

Three decades on the Museum Street gallery still has the paintings of George Formby, Charlie Lee and ‘Warrington’s oldest dog’ Sherry in its collections.

The painting of Wally Barnes also eventually made its way back to the town after it was auctioned and raised £1,200 for Children in Need. Wally, himself, later donated it back to the gallery.

The other paintings had interest from collectors far and wide.

Frances added: “My painting of Joseph Priestley was sold by Portal Gallery to an American collector, the painting of Stephen Hough was bought by Chetham’s School of Music and is still in the headmaster’s study there.

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“The picture of Sunny Lowry has been lost, but I still have my painting of cricketer George Duckworth.”

The 20-minute video to mark 30 years since the exhibition called Warrington Living Memory saw Frances team up with Andy Green, from Radio Warrington, to create a new commentary track.

And although the project may have made Frances feel nostalgic, she still thinks Warrington has its fair share of characters.

She said: “Having recently returned to live in Warrington I have been impressed by the new developments, and I think that we still have plenty of interesting characters, to cheer and inspire us within the pages of the Warrington Guardian every week.

“Eric Tucker – ‘the secret Lowry’ –is an example. I was one of those who waited in line for a couple of hours last year to view his pictures.

“A unique experience and I’m looking forward to seeing his work again at the museum later this month.

“The 30th anniversary seemed the perfect time to revisit the original exhibition, to look back, but also to look around at what is happening in Warrington now.

“I also hope it might inspire the younger generation to create their own ‘living memory’ projects, talking to older family members about characters they may remember and so forth.”

The Story and The Fable may have been one of Frances’s highlights but she has certainly been busy since then.

She added: “In the 30 years since my first solo show my career has continued to thrive, I have taken part in many exhibitions in the UK, Europe and the USA.

“My pictures have been used on dozens of book covers, calendars, jigsaws, cards, and now large prints of some of my paintings adorn the cabin walls on board Fred Olsen cruise ships. Next autumn my painting of Wilberforce the No 10 cat is to be used as set dressing for episodes of The Crown series four.

“I will also be showing a couple of my original paintings here in a new exhibition space in Golden Square organised by Technically Brilliant Art which has just opened.

“And just recently I worked with Marie Jones, a young artist, as part of her Lets Get Stuck in Traffic project for her first solo show at Warrington Museum and Art Gallery which I really enjoyed, especially the knitted pink landscape!

“So the town is certainly changing, for the better, in terms of art and in other ways, but it is also good to remember some of the characters who helped to shape its identity historically, as well as culturally...”