George Fry, Teacher BSoA 1960-62


George Fry’s letter to the BSoA website in April reminded me of my brief acquaintance with a memorable and kind teacher. I knew him, black bearded and bespectacled, from 1960 to 1962 when the art school closed.

In the summer of 1962 we sat the Intermediate exam as part of the NDD course and George joined us. Although already having the NDD, he needed the Intermediate to provide him with a teaching qualification. He had selected “The Funeral” from a list of options and had depicted a wake with the coffin on display and respectful relatives in attendance. On hands and knees on the floor, a small boy peered through a floral wreath. After fifty years I can still recall the painting’s humour and its heightened colours of viridian and purple.

He had another string to his bow which, during a party held somewhere off Beckenham High Street in 1962, caused me much chagrin. I encountered him dancing an amazing jive with Sally Norris (daughter of Laurence Norris). Despite a course of dancing lessons at Peggy Spencer’s School of Dancing in Penge, I was still a dead loss at tripping the light fantastic and George’s insouciance with the lovely Sally put the tin lid on any further terpsichorean ambitions.

Over the weeks and months of those two final years at Beckenham, George and Fred Packer outlined to us the complex story and history of art from prehistoric paintings on cave walls to the “isms” of the mid-twentieth century. An extended session, orchestrated and conducted by both men, was devoted to Marcel Duchamp’s Futurist inspired construction The Large Glass. A tour de force!

George’s other great legacy was an enduring love of the cinema. He organized and ran a film club one evening a week in the basement of 80 Croydon Road. Here we watched films that were never seen in the local Odeons or Gaumonts. These were foreign films mainly from Europe but also Russia. Even then, some of them were beginning to show their age while others were relatively recent releases. But all of them were a world away from Hollywood and one in particular, a literal eye-opener. We watched Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, Jean Cocteau’s Orpheus, Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves and Miracle in Milan, Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. There was Fellini’s amazing La Strada – one of the greatest films ever made and Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky and Ivan The Terrible Part 1 and 2. The heretical surrealism of Salvador Dali and Luis Bunel with L’Age d’Or and Un Chien Andalou. This is the one with the famous opening scene where a middle-aged man (Luis Bunuel) draws a razor across a woman’s eye while she stares calmly ahead – it’s still difficult to watch. And there were many others. George told us about the National Film Theatre, which in those days was a small and easily missed venue tucked away under Waterloo Bridge. I became a member straight away and have remained so to this day. Now called BFI Southbank and still somehow fitting under the bridge, the huge complex comprises three cinemas, studio space, a film library, cafes, a restaurant, exhibition spaces and a large bar area and attracts thousands of (mainly young) enthusiasts.

George Fry emigrated to Canada in 1963 where he became Director of Art Education at the Saint John School Board, New Brunswick. He says that he based his directive for the post on that of Beckenham School of Art. To this day he is still deeply involved with and contributing to the artistic life of his community and his adopted country. In 1994 he received the Province of New Brunswick Award of Excellence in Art Education and Community Cultural Development. In 2003 he received a Queen Elizabeth Golden Jubilee medal for his services to Canada. He is in “Who’s Who in Canada”. Visit his website: click on linktext to view his wide range of activities in illustration, masks, one-off books, set design and more.

Finally, I’d like to mention that George Fry was one of only two people I have known who knew that the family name of the great French painter Edgar Degas was De Gas and that that was the correct pronunciation of his surname. A non sequitur maybe but these things matter.

Adrian Buckley
September 2012

George Fry Canada 2012