SHEILA from SHIELDS #2 – Exhibition at South Shields Museum & Art Gallery

An exhibition is being held in South Shields to celebrate the 81 years of inspirational art and animation of Sheila Graber. Invited to the exhibition was former pupil Allyson Stewart.

‘Sheila was my art teacher at the Grammar school and when I first went into the class I was thinking I don’t know what I’m doing here. I can’t draw, I can’t paint, but over a period of weeks I think it was the way Sheila was teaching us without it feeling like she was teaching us’.

‘And I began to realise it wasn’t about how well you can paint it’s more about how you can be creative. When I started to learn about perspective that’s when it kicked in for me, I suddenly realised I could draw street scenes and buildings that actually looked like a building’.

‘That was quite a revelation and since then I’ve done a few bits and pieces that have been done with pen and ink, that’s my favourite medium. I can’t paint I’m useless with a paint brush, but with pen and ink it just feels right to me’.

‘But then I joined Sheila’s Cine Animation group and that was great, something completely different at the time at the Grammar school it was pretty radical. And I thoroughly enjoyed it. That taught me all about timing, getting things right and putting them in the right order, keeping accurate records. I gather that the animation film that I made is now on You Tube thanks to Sheila – so hopefully I can live that down’.

‘First person that taught me that anything was possible was a teacher called Stan Coates at Stanhope Juniors.  The last thing he ever said to me when I left school was I expect to see your name in writing someday young lady. And then nothing ever fired me up until Sheila was teaching me. And she taught me you haven’t got to be a brilliant painter, you haven’t got to be a great designer, you haven’t got to know how to structure a painting, it’s all about how you feel and how you can interpret it’.

‘And that was a revelation to me and I think that’s what rekindled the spark that you don’t have to paint you can write. You can find a creative outlet some other way, and that was really helpful for me. Now I’m back into doing the writing, loving every minute, so thanks to Stan and thanks to Sheila I’m loving every minute, I’m living the life and love it’.

Also invited to the exhibition was writer and retired Shields Gazette journalist, Janis Blower, who started off with a piece of poetry by James Henry Lee Hunt.

Abou Ben Adhem may his tribe increase, awoke one night from a deep dream of peace.

And saw within the moonlight in his room, making it rich and like a lily in bloom,

An angel writing in a book of gold.

‘I have a love of angels as they are depicted in art and stained glass, and also in one of the loves of my creativity – which has been sewing. The angels started with my oldest sister Pam, who we lost in 2019 unfortunately. As a child I used to share a bed with her in the attic bedroom. I was frightened of the dark so to comfort me she would sing songs and recite poems that she’d learned at school’.

‘One of the poems was Abuben Adden and that image of the angel writing in his book of gold really seized my imagination. The words seemed to come off the page already burnished and glowing and that struck me as the writer I’ve become – the power of words’.

‘Angels has become a favourite motif too stitch, I’ve had a lifelong love of sewing and embroidery going all the way back to the days when I first made a tea tray cloth at Ocean Road school when I was aged about 8 or 9 which I still have to this day. It was the start of a lifelong love of sewing, embroidery and cross stich which has been a great comfort at times over the years’.

‘I’ve known Sheila for many years because she actually taught me art when I was a pupil at South Shields Girl’s Grammar School. I remember very vividly her enthusiasm and her belief that anybody could be creative. I’m not sure that I believed it at the time, but I’ve come to realise that it’s true, and it’s something you pick up from this wonderful exhibition that she has of her life and art.

The message being that there is creativity in everybody if you know where to look for it’.

The exhibition runs from 17 May – 30 October 2021

Interviews by Gary Alikivi  2021