One of the prints found by Dr Heggie
Tracking down Teesside's lost steel artist
By Dr Joan Heggie, University of Teesside
The BBC's Inside Out programme discovers how an intriguing name in a pile of folders from the British Steel archive set a Teesside academic on a quest to uncover the story of a mystery steel artist.
I first encountered Viva Talbot in 2006 in Teesside Archives, Middlesbrough. I was looking through a selection of different items which were all part of the British Steel Collection when I noticed an plain grey/blue coloured album entitled ‘Steelmaking Woodcuts’ by Viva Talbot.
The name intrigued me at first – Viva – quite an unusual name; and I wondered if it was a woman. The type of research I’ve done in the past tends to focuses on women’s lives and I was intrigued.
Then I opened the album and saw the prints inside and I was stunned by their power and beauty.
The quality of the work was obvious, even to my untrained eye, but more importantly the images illustrated an industrial world which most women would not have been given access to. I was determined to find out more about her.
I honestly thought I would look her name up on the internet and find that several books had been written about her but, hard as I looked, I couldn’t find anything. I kept digging and eventually found out that there had been an exhibition of her work in London in the mid 1980s.
From there I was able to trace her family connections to the steel industry and found out quite a bit more about Viva’s life. I managed to track down her last surviving nephew who has very generously shared his memories of her with me.
It was a real breakthrough to speak with him, his wife and other family members, listen to their stories of her artistic and musical abilities and learn more about this interesting woman. She really started to come to life then. They were also able to show me more of Viva’s work as they had many prints of woodcuts which she had carved throughout her long lifetime, as well as photographs, sketch books and even diaries.
Researching Viva’s life has taken up practically every spare minute of my own for the past two years but it has been an interesting and rewarding journey which I look forward to continuing. I would now like to write a book about her and put together an exhibition of her artwork so that others can appreciate her great talent.
last updated: 11/05/2009 at 18:04