John Fred Horseman is a local artist who “likes art and likes steam”. These two very diverse elements have combined throughout his lifetime to form a collection that has been shown in the Laing Art Gallery, exhibited outside The Baltic and featured in national magazines.
Mr Horseman’s sculptural work ranges from two beautiful wooden seahorses, carved out of wood from the bed he was born in, to the imposing sculpture of a bison that was exhibited in the Laing’s ‘Exhibition of Work by Artists of the Northern Country’ in 1955.
In 1974 Mr Horseman finished a work that was featured in Model Engineer Magazine as ‘one of the best engines of the century’. His creation, a 4 ¼ inch scale model Burrell traction engine, took six years to build and was affectionately named ‘Mr Rusty’ after a horse owned by his late sister, Jill.
‘Mr Rusty’ was Mr Horseman’s first attempt at building a traction engine and, he said, “Everything made for the Burrell was my first attempt so inevitably several parts were made two or three times. Materials sourced from scrap yards were taken to fashion the engine’s component parts and finished using a lathe from a local ship breakers. The gears were particularly tricky to get right.” The machine was last in steam in 1996.
While creating ‘Mr Rusty’, Mr Horseman had several other artistic projects on the go. One of which was helping his friend, Mich Glenn, restore a full size generating steam traction engine, The Fowler Empire Pride.
“We had a big shed in Whitley Bay”, Mr Horseman told me “and with another friend, Arthur Mason, we enjoyed long hours transforming this beast into a magnificent showman’s engine which was renamed ‘The Iron Duke’. I bought a living van from Northumberland County Council for £12 to attach onto the back and we used to eat our lunches in there with our families.” The living van is now at The Beamish Museum.
A large oil painting of the Iron Duke, which was finished in 1967, is one of Mr Horseman’s more colourful creations. The twisted brass decorations of the engine glow and shine beneath his skilled brushwork and the men who are shown in the painting, Mr Horseman included, look suitably proud of their endeavours.
One of the more recent works by this local artist is a creation called ‘Modern Art is a Trail of Rubbish’ which involved the artist pulling a string covered in crushed drinks cans behind him on one of the recumbent bicycles he has designed and built.
So, if you see an artistic looking gentleman cycling past you on a recumbent bicycle along the seafront, do give him a wave. He’s a local treasure.
by Katherine Wildman © 2011
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