Art treasure from city’s hidden talent

The studio of Sheffield artist Gordon Smee
The studio of Sheffield artist Gordon Smee
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Teacher Jo Edmondson had the shock of her life when she was clearing out her dad’s studio shed after he died.

She discovered not just a few, but stacks and stacks of enormous oil paintings.

Her father, Gordon Smee, had been a prolific artist, working privately throughout Jo’s life.

But his paintings were not just amateur landscapes, they were stunning pieces which, once exhibited, could compete with some of the nation’s best painters.

Now Jo, aged 52, who lives in Pitsmoor, is on a mission to see that these paintings finally get an audience.

Jo says: “I knew my dad painted, but I had no idea how much he did.

“He never talked about it because he was a very private man. His paintings are technically impressive and he references all the major movements in modern art.

Gordon Smee was a lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University’s School of Art, teaching the art foundation course.

Jo says: “He retired in 1980 just as conceptual art started to become all the rage. I think he – like many painters – started to become disillusioned with that so he retreated to his studio and rarely displayed his work.”

Jo’s friends and family have helped her move all the art works into Kelham Island Arts Co-operative, where they are being stored. Simon Baker, a former art teacher who helps run KIAC, says: “In my opinion, as well as the opinions of other artists who have seen the work, the paintings Gordon Snee produced show that he was an outstanding talent whose work would stand in comparison with many other well-known and famous artists of his generation.”

Gordon was no amateur. He trained at one of the country’s most prestigious art schools – the Slade School of Fine Art in London, part of University College London (UCL) – after securing an academic scholarship from his grammar school in Gainsborough.

Jo, who teaches at Fir Vale School, says: “He wanted to study art and went there because it was the only school attached to an academic institution, which was a condition of his scholarship.

“Most art schools aren’t affiliated with a traditional academic institution but the Slade is.

“He was doing National Service when he was called for his interview at the Slade, so mum and dad selected all the works they thought were ‘nice’. When it came to the interview he said he cringed at the selection, but he got in anyway.”

Jo is not on a mission to exhibit these works simply because they were painted by her father. As a design teacher, she feels they deserve an audience.

“The paintings have their own intrinsic value,” she says. “They are so technically accomplished and even in the abstract ones you can see the years of training in them. At the Slade my dad would sit in a room all day drawing and painting plaster casts.

“Once they mastered that they could then move into the life room. It was intensive training, but you just don’t get that sort of technical tuition at art school now.”

There is another twist to the tale, according to Jo.

“In the past week, somebody has broken into the shed in Gainsborough and stolen two of the key pieces.It is strange because they would have to have known which ones to look for and gone to a lot of trouble to steal them. These paintings are 4ft by 6ft – they’re not easy to move.”

Jo believes the thieves had knowledge of art and had realised these works would soon be on exhibition and possibly valuable.

“It seems to me they knew the value of these images,” she says.

But for now, the rest of Gordon Smee’s work is locked up at the artists’ collective in Kelham Island.

And soon Jo hopes to display them to the public in Sheffield.