Date Posted: 20th February 2023

The Three Pits
Three Pits preliminary charcoal drawing

Only six days to go before Percy Kelly’s Copeland exhibition comes to a close at the Beacon in Whitehaven. It has been a resounding success with hundreds of visitors every day since it opened in January. The wonderful front of house staff have really enjoyed being unusually busy in the quiet months of January and February. It has reached an all time  record in revenue and visitor numbers. Tony Calvin  who has done Tuesday talks and Sunday trails throughout and his wife Sal who has entertained school parties,  told stories and listened to people who knew and remembered Percy  as well as people who worked in Sekers Silk Mill recounting their experiences. She has been jotting down some of the stories and the people who made them. I can feel a book coming on Sal!

I have thoroughly enjoyed Bringing the Exhibition to Life every Saturday1-3pm reconnecting with so many people I haven’t seen since I moved on from Castlegate House and introducing many others to Percy Kelly. I have told so many stories behind some of his paintings and drawings, stories about the life of Percy and I have heard fascinating stories that fill gaps in my knowledge. There has been a lot of excitement about the finding of 6 of the alleged 11 or 12 works commissioned by Sir Nicholas Sekers in 1965 that I am now anticipating more turning up in equally surprising places.

I also have rekindled hopes of finding a masterpiece that I have been searching for over the past 30 years. It is called The Three Pits and is the view from Bransty looking south across Whitehaven. I became aware of its existence when I got an e mail from a professor who had bought it from Percy after he had been to his first exhibition in  told Rosehill Theatre foyer in 1966. He was asking for advice  of where to leave his 4 Kellys as he had no children.  I asked for images and got very excited when I received The Three pits  which was as big as the Parton Panorama now showing in the Beacon.

 ‘Where are you living? I asked.

 ‘ Miami he replied.’

I began to make plans to pay him a visit (in the service of art of course! Somebody had to!) but he put me off saying he was coming to Carlisle the following year to see his sister and we could meet then. I went round to the Hotel where he was staying ready to drive him over to Castlegate for afternoon tea only to be told by his carer that he was old and frail and had developed a lung infection and  they had changed their flight and were about to set off for Heathrow. So I never met the professor but I had his tantalising photograph of the three pits. He didn’t answer any more e mails. I didn’t know his sister’s married name and was frustrated to have been so close. He has now died. But in the meantime I acquired a very large preliminary charcoal drawing of that Three Pits painting. I was getting close again but got no further.  Did he leave a will?  Did he take my advice and leave it to Tullie House?  (I had  left  the gallery by now; supposedly retired;  Aha that’s a joke!) So the mystery is still unsolved. You can see the magnificent charcoal of the 3 pits on lining paper in the Beacon exhibition. The painting based on it would have stolen the show.

I can only dream … !

I will be in the gallery for the last time on Saturday 1 – 3 bringing the exhibition to life. Tony and Sal will be conducting the last trail 11.30 – 1.30 on Sunday and we will probably all be in the gallery after that to have a silent weep that it is ending.

Again warm and grateful thanks to all the lenders of their precious paintings. Without their generosity there would not have been an exhibition.

Thank you Tony and Sal Calvin for giving up so much time to the project and doing the heavy lifting!

And thank you to all the record breakers who have supported us -  many more than once.