An appeal from a Warwickshire art gallery for folk art has unearthed the works of an unknown Birmingham artist who sketched scenes from the city’s industrial past. Matt Lloyd delves into the mystery of Albert H.Barnett.
Curators at Compton Verney art gallery in Warwickshire knew they had something special on their hands as soon as they saw the drawings of a previously unknown artist.
The 200 biro sketches, bearing the name Albert H. Barnett depicted scenes from Birmingham’s past showing old buildings, vehicles and even newspaper obituaries.
As stunned gallery staff dug deeper to find out more they discovered the story of a gasworks security guard who would spend hours labouring over the drawings composed on scraps of paper, the backs of envelopes and purchase order slips.
Details in the drawings include signs on buildings, the names of companies long gone, methods of transport and street views now vanished under a sea of re-development.
Antonia Harrison, curator at Compton Verney, said: “He really pushed it as a medium in terms of different textures, they are just so inventive and distinctive.
“They really stood out to us as a body of work in the artist category and not just doodling. They are pretty unique.”
Each of the drawings, given to Stan Mason, a colleague of Barnett’s, contains hand written details of its time of composition and who the drawing was for.
They even include instructions on how to keep and display the works.
But for all their details little is known of Barnett himself, even which area of Birmingham he was from or worked in.
Ms Harrison added: “We don’t know a huge amount, what we know is mostly from the Mason family about working in a gasworks in the 1970s.
“Other than that we have no information. A lot of the drawings are from his memories of the 30s and 40s.”
The drawings unearthed so far have gone on display at Compton Verney as part of the What the Folk Says project.
However Ms Harrision believes relatives of Barnett could be out there and able to shed light on the artists life and even bring more of his works to the public’s attention.
“We would be interested in knowing if his family is still around, they may have more drawings and also, he did these when he was at the gasworks but maybe he did others when he wasn’t there.”
Based on the notes Barnett made on the works it appears he gave drawings to many different people leading the belief more could be out there, passed down through families.
Ms Harrison added: “There may be more out there. We were delighted when the Mason’s bought them in. They liked them and kept them, maybe other people did the same.”