Where I came from
Born Jane Mugglestone in Loughborough, Leicestershire, I lived in the village of Nanpantan on the edge of the Charnwood Forest until I was ten. Alongside my four older brothers I grew up with the farms and woodlands as my playground; a period that had a lasting influence on me. We made dens, scoured the hedgerows for blackberries, hips and haws and birds nests, hunted for fish, newts, eels, leeches and crayfish in the stream that ran through the woods and fields. We hung around the milking parlour on the farm, helped with the harvest and went for long walks with our mother, learning the names of all the wild flowers, weeds, birds and trees. From an early age I loved to draw, paint and make things, greatly encouraged by my artistic and practical mother.
I was ten when we moved to live in the village of Packington near Ashby-de-la-Zouch, a small farming village on the Leicestershire, Derbyshire border. My mother was born there and her family had lived in that village for many generations. My father, the son of a colliery blacksmith from Pleasley, Nottinghamshire was a chartered surveyor and water engineer and in 1954 he took a job with Ashby Urban District Council.
My Training Years
Six years later I found myself back at Loughborough at the Art School where I spent four years studying for a National Diploma in Design, specialising in Printed Textiles. This was a very good general art training. In the first two years we took Intermediate, or as we would now say, a two year Foundation course, which gave us experience in a wide range of disciplines. There was a strong emphasis on life drawing and also close observation studies of plants and natural forms which were popular design elements at that time. I most enjoyed painting sessions in the Fine Art Department.
After NDD I took a job at a school in Slough as an Assistant Teacher where I quickly learned the ‘art of teaching’ by trial and error and with the great help of a wonderful young Art Teacher, who ran the two person art department with great expertise. I tended to pick up on how she did things and run with it.
During that year I lived in Windsor, shared a house with two other young women teachers and spent many of my weekends in London. I’d been going out with Julian (Jules) Ashdown for two years. We’d met in my second year at Loughborough College. He was an outstanding middle distant runner and training to be a PE Teacher but by 1995 was teaching in London while at the same time studying for an external BA Hons Degree in English Literature at London University’s Birkbeck College. With both of us receiving a salary and having access to life in London it was an exciting year and we enjoyed Music Concerts, Covent Garden operas, galleries, restaurants and my favourite area of London at that time of the 60’s, the Kings Road.
I decided to go back to College to take an Art Teacher’s Certificate at Brighton College of Art. It was a rather eccentric course as it turned out. A lot of freedom to pursue whatever art form you wished provided you learned to do immaculate, classic italic handwriting and by the end of the year had produced a hand written, illustrated and bound book about virtually anything under the sun. It just had to look beautiful. Tapping into my love of all things botanical I chose the theme of Floral symbols in Religion and Poetry. School experience was kept to the minimum and I only ever had one visit from a tutor whilst at Lancing Comprehensive School. We were shown a lot of films about education in Communist China! It was a year I enjoyed immensely and I loved Brighton.
In 1966 Jules and I were married and I became Jane Ashdown. We lived first in Putney, then Thames Ditton. In 1971 Jules got a lectureship in the English Department at Bognor Regis Teacher’s Training College (later to amalgamate with Bishop Otter Teacher’s Training College, Chichester and now the University of Chichester) and we bought a house near the sea in East Wittering, West Sussex. For the first three years there I taught at Bishop Luffa C of E Comprehensive School in Chichester.
By 1973 we had three children, Dominic, Isabel and Rebecca and I was teaching full-time at Michael Ayres CP School in Bognor Regis. I spent fifteen years there as a class teacher and although it was a very demanding period of my life I was happy to work with a wonderful staff and headmaster and found teaching seven to nine year olds very rewarding. Throughout this period I had little time to do my own work. Julian and I were very happy and enjoying having young children and had a lively social life. I went to a life drawing session once a week throughout the 80’s and would paint and draw during the long Summer holidays, which gave my artistic side a lifeline and kept my drawing skills tuned in.
However, although I was creative in my teaching and took every opportunity to make things – toys for the children, knitwear, clothes, handmade everything – my painting career was put on hold.
A change came about in 1988. Life with Jules had become increasingly difficult over the past ten years. He was drinking heavily and was forced to take early retirement on health grounds. Eventually I left him and my marriage came to an abrupt end. Sadly by this time he had succumbed to severe alcoholism and died two years later in 1990 aged 50.
In September 1988 I took a new job at Bognor Regis Community College, a large comprehensive school of two and a half thousand pupils, where I was in charge of running the Lower School Art Department. I spent four years there, happy to be teaching my own subject again.
In 1989 I bought a house in Chichester and settled there with my two daughters now aged 15 and 18. My son Dominic, 20, was abroad travelling and spending a year working on a kibbutz in Israel.
Painting in Norfolk
I moved to Norfolk in 1992 where I did some part-time teaching at Long Stratton High School for about eight years. I had given up teaching altogether by the year 2000 to concentrate on my own work as a full-time painter.
The countryside along the Waveney Valley is not unlike the part of Leicestershire that I grew up in, but has remained far less spoilt by man and progress.
Much of my work up to now has featured animals familiar to me from childhood. In East Anglia there are still small mixed herds of beef cattle living in a few acres along the marshes and water meadows and dairy herds on working farms. We can also boast a thriving bird population although some species have disappeared since I lived here, such as the cuckoo.
Cows viewed through a hedge, fence or gap in a wall have become a recurring theme in my work. Friesians grazing from Spring to Autumn next door in the fields have featured in my paintings for twenty years. Sadly, the herd was sold off this February as it was no longer profit-making. The herd had been reared by the same farming family for fifty years and had recently won a ‘best in show’ cup at the Royal Norfolk Show for a cow called Lucy.
I imagine man will always farm animals and that some traditional farming methods will survive.
My desire to paint images of cattle feels instinctive. Many of my mother’s Leicestershire family were in farming. My grandmother, Eliza Grundy, was a farmer’s daughter and my great-grandfather and great-uncle, George & John German were land agents and auctioneers in Ashby-de-la-Zouch. All my brothers live in and love the countryside and my brother Frank has been farming all his life. Our garden here in Norfolk bordered by hawthorn hedges, interspersed with brambles, maple, ash, yew and oak, was layed by Frank who, in the past, won the Quorn Hunt hedgelaying competition!