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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

C J Ashford

At the age of 94, C. J. Ashford has had an astonishingly long career which continues to expand as more paintings emerge from his studio, a converted garage at his home of over 60 years at Shooters Hill. He is famous for his aircraft paintings, but is also a specialist maritime artist who has also painted steam trains and cars. His artwork is meticulously researched and convincingly painted in watercolours and occasionally in oils. He has also produced covers for books and magazines, postcards, posters and illustrations for the First World War Aviation Historical Society's Cross and Cockade and books published for the RAF Benevolent Fund, including Wright to Fly.

Colin James Ashford was born in Ackworth, Yorkshire, in March 1919 and is still painting. He attended Ackworth Quaker School, where his teachers told his parents that they could teach the naturally talented youngster nothing further about drawing. He won a Junior Exhibition to study art for four years (1933-37) at Wakefield School of Art, followed by three years (1937-39) at Glasgow School of Art, where he won drawing and painting prizes.

He was interested in both aviation—having first flown in a bi-plane piloted by a Great War veteran whilst still at school—and maritime art. He would spend his holidays on fishing boats out of Scarborough trawling for herring.

He joined the First Battalion Scottish Light Infantry during the Second World War and arrived in France as part of the British Expeditionary Force shortly before the Dunkirk evacuation. Sent to defend the gap in the Allied front created by Belgium's surrender, the Infantry dug in over night after a rapid march and held out for 24 hours against a superior force, which included two Panzer divisions. Ashford, wounded in the leg, was taken to Poperinge, Belgium, and found taken back into battle as part of an artillery unit after accepting a ride with a tracked bren-gun carrier. Soon after, he found himself shoulder-deep in water whilst trying to cross a river where the bridge had been demolished. He spent two days on the beach at Dunkirk before being returned home.

After three months hospitalisation recovering from his wound and shell-shock, he served with the Royal Engineers in North Africa and Italy. His artistic talents were employed in developing camouflage.

After the war he took a job with a publisher, working freelance in his spare time. In 1959, he was commissioned to illustrate an aerial photographic sortie by an Airco DH.9 flying over Crystal Palace. The resulting artwork attracted the attention of Freeman, Fox and Partners, a firm of consulting engineers, who hired him to produce artwork for numerous bridge and road building projects.

His paintings can be found in the Royal Air Force Museum, the Yorkshire Air Museum, Hendon RAF Museum, the National Maritime Museum, Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre in New Zealand and other museums around the world.

He continues to be exhibited at the Aviation Paintings of the Year exhibition at the Mall Galleries. The latter exhibition is organised by the Guild of Aviation Artists, which Ashford was a founder member of. Created in 1971 to promote aviation art, the Guild now has over 500 members worldwide. Ashford has won the Guild's Hawker Siddeley Trophy for best watercolour of the year more than once and was elected Vice President in 2010.

(* Much of the above information is derived from an interview with Ashford at the e-Shooters Hill website.)

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