I’ve recently been examining some of my father’s papers—part of my collection of family history material—and have enjoyed finding again his old art sketchbook dating from 1913, over one hundred years old now.
Dad was a talented artist. He first showed his artistic ability while still at school, but like many youngsters at that time, he finished his full time education at just age fourteen (in 1910). Afterwards he attended day and evening classes at the School of Art, Handsworth Technical School, and was awarded a first class certificate in Brush Drawing.
Dad’s first job was at John Hardman & Co. in Birmingham’s famous Jewellery Quarter. He used to like pointing out to me the Hardman building when we travelled into town by tram (no. 32) in the late 1940s and by bus (no. 96) in the early 1950s. Hardman’s was well known as a company that specialised in designing and crafting stained glass windows.
While at Hardman’s, Dad had a chance to develop an interest in commercial art, and by 1913, when he was sixteen years old, he was working on his own from an address in Soho Road, Handsworth, designing and producing posters and tickets for local churches and other organisations. The sketchbook that I found dates from this period in his career.
The Fashion Sketches
The contents show Dad practising his sketching and developing his flair for high fashion designs. The time-frame of these sketches (2 July 1914 to 30 August 1914) was in the weeks immediately before and after the outbreak of the Great War on 4th August. Whether the designs were strictly from his imagination or whether he modelled them after newspaper or magazine advertisements, we do not know. He was only seventeen and could not have known that his future as an artist would soon be rudely interrupted by service in the British Army. Regardless, the fashion sketches themselves are wonderful evidence of his talent.
His book includes fourteen pages of pen-and-ink fashion sketches like those below. Some hold just a single sketch, while others show several designs or working details.
All the sketches are dated and signed F. Ball, (later in his life he began signing F L Ball).
Helen and I were charmed by the sketches and so we scanned them, asked our local print shop to enlarge two of them, and the picture framer here in Brecon to mount and frame them for use in our home. Below I’ve included an almost full-size image of one of the chosen sketches.
You can read more about the artistic aspects of Dad’s life on my website in the section entitled The Life of Frank Leonard Ball.