Harvey Ivor Sklair 1928 - 2013

Harvey Sklair’s daytime teaching job was Head of Art at Beckenham & Penge Grammar School. But he also taught life drawing to BSoA students in evening classes until its closure as an art school. This is where I first met him in 1960. He continued teaching adult evening classes in the building for several years. Harvey was born on 22nd October 1928 in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. His mother had nearly died giving birth but thanks to the ministrations of Dr. Harvey Evers mother and baby survived. She expressed her gratitude by giving her son the doctor’s first name and adapting his surname to Ivor as a middle name. Harvey died aged 84 on the 19th September 2013.


Harvey Sklair, circa: 1962

Harvey’s father, Isaac Leonard Sklarevsky, was born in 1889 in Nikolaev in the Ukraine. While still a baby, Isaac’s parents left their homeland for Britain to escape the anti-Jewish pogroms of Eastern Europe. Arriving in Hull en route to America, the family disembarked when Isaac’s father, William (known as Woolf) was persuaded to swop the boat tickets for train tickets to Glasgow and offered work as a tailor. Here the immigration officer shortened the surname to Sklair.

Isaac married Hetty Levvey in 1924. She, like Harvey’s father, came from a large family. Her parents had left Bialystok in North East Poland in 1888. In 1934 the family moved to Whitley Bay where they lived for the next 20 years at 16 King’s Road. Isaac, (or Ike), had a happy-go-lucky disposition, entertaining friends and guests with his anecdotes and piano playing. He provided for the family by working as a commercial traveller. Harvey was the youngest of four with his sister Leila and brothers Sam and Astor.

The four siblings excelled in the creative arts, including painting, music and the theatre. From early on Harvey had liked to draw and this facility inevitably drew him towards art school. Sadly his devoted mother Hetty died just before the end of World War 2 in 1945. In September 1945 he became an art student at King’s College, Newcastle which was then part of Durham University (now Newcastle University). The course was interrupted for two years (plus an extra three months as a result of the Russians causing problems for the allies over Berlin) with compulsory conscription into the army. Following demob he returned to finish the course – this time with college tuition fees covered by a Government grant. This much-needed financial help encouraged him to take his studies more seriously. He painted six hours a day, every day.

Victor Pasmore had led the art course at King’s College, Durham from 1952. Pasmore had taken on Richard Hamilton as a teacher but Hamilton’s fascination with contemporary commercial images and his burgeoning interest in pop art didn’t appeal to Harvey (although in later years his attitude towards pop art softened considerably). He cleaved to the solid and analytical paintwork of another tutor, Lawrence Gowing, Professor of Fine Art at King’s College. Gowing’s painterly roots emphasized naturalism and realism and extended back through the work and teachings of Roger de Grey (one of the witnesses at Harvey’s wedding and later President of the RA) and William Coldstream and still further back to the late 30s and the Euston Road School.


Self-portrait

Having completed his studies at Newcastle, and with a First-Class Honours Degree in Fine Art under his belt, Harvey was encouraged by his tutors to apply for a travelling scholarship. This involved an interview with the principal of the RCA, Robin Darwin (great grandson of Charles) and an outside examiner, Henry Moore. Harvey had had an earlier encounter with Darwin and the two men hadn’t hit it off. The details are forever a mystery but Harvey remembered Darwin’s opening remark at the interview, “I remember you. You’re that flibbertigibbet…” Even so, Harvey won a scholarship – a year to paint in the south of France and Majorca. Now married to Thelma, a life model at the art school, the two travelled together. At that time, Harvey and Thelma and four others were the only non-Majorcans on the island, Robert Graves who had a house there, being another. This was a pre-tourist Majorca and Harvey remembered the island in its pristine state. As far as he was concerned it was an artist’s paradise and he painted from sunrise to sunset. Some of his paintings were passed on to the RCA and Newcastle University.


Harvey’s passport photo


Reverse of passport photo showing Robin Darwin’s signature

In 1956 Harvey obtained his Diploma in Education from the University of Durham with a distinction in practical teaching. His first teaching post was at West Moor Grammar School in Newcastle. But visits to the London art galleries, especially in and around Bond Street and Cork Street, convinced him that London was where it was all happening! He applied for and got the post of Head of Art at Beckenham Grammar School. In 1958 Harvey and Thelma moved into a flat in Southend Road, Beckenham. Their son Gideon was born in 1960. (A young couple, Mr. and Mrs. David Bowie, were their neighbours). Harvey’s teaching career was to span the next 27 years.

In everyday life Harvey was an approachable, sympathetic, knowledgeable and entertaining man and these traits were also apparent in his professional life. He was an inspiring teacher, and a gifted and serious painter. He was also a fair pub singer, a gambler and poker player and a dedicated smoker. His manner of teaching was non-stuffy and anti-authoritarian. He told a story about a first year boy who had noticed 5th and 6th formers calling him Harvey. The boy asked Harvey how long it would be before he could call him by his first name. Harvey replied that he could do so at any time. The lad exclaimed, “Thank you, sir!” and went happily on his way. My own teacher-training took me to Beckenham Grammar School in 1964, and then two years later I became an assistant art teacher in Harvey’s art department. This is when I got to know Harvey and his family. It was clear that among many of the staff and certainly the headmaster, Harvey was considered unorthodox (let’s face it, he had a beard and often wore a black leather jacket and taught art…). He was a man with something of a bohemian reputation – essential really for any self respecting art teacher. This, of course, endeared him tremendously to the cooler kids he taught; those who were well aware of that exciting decade in which they (and he) found themselves. His 100% success rate with his numerous A-level art students belied any casualness of intent.


Humphrey Bogart – life-size wood cut-out


Billie Holiday

Following retirement in the mid-eighties, Harvey continued to paint, often on commission. Portraits, landscapes, people’s houses or pets were grist to the mill. He got to know Glynn Peacock and Mark Bessick who still run the Picture Palace in Westow Street, a thriving art gallery in Crystal Palace. Here he worked for many years as a sort of freelance dealer and partner – buying and selling paintings, taking part in the everyday running of the gallery as well as taking the odd opportunity to display and sell his own work – but mainly having a lot of fun. With the help of Harvey’s curatorial skills, the Picture Palace housed several highly successful shows of local artist’s work often mixed with Victorian and 20th century big hitters.


Hastings Beach


View from the Crystal Palace


Seascape

By this time Harvey and Thelma had separated and finally divorced and Harvey and Gideon had left the house in Barnmead Road. Harvey’s devotion and care for his son Gideon, who has Asperger syndrome (a form of autism) was both amazing and moving. He never considered placing Gideon in care but instead let him live a relatively free and independent life with home as the safe-centre; home being a series of flats in Beckenham, Crystal Palace, Tooting and finally Venner Road in Sydenham. However, a careless driver changed both their lives. Since a motoring accident in 2007, in which Gideon was seriously injured but went on to make a remarkable recovery, he has lived with carers in his own flat in Beckenham. Harvey met Margot in 1968 at Beckenham School of Art. Like Thelma, she too was an artist’s model. They have been partners for over thirty years. Margot appears in numerous paintings by Harvey many of which hung on the walls and staircase in the flat in Venner Road.


Margot


Margot and Gideon


Margot at Venner Road

There is a YouTube clip from an interview with Harvey made by his nephew Stephen Sklair in 2012. Just enter Harvey Sklair in the YouTube search box.


Gideon and Harvey

Adrian Buckley
October 2013