Charles Wells stored so many of his paintings in his tiny cottage that they lifted his bed up. Silsden art historian Colin Neville looks at the late-blooming painter from Hainworth.

TOWARDS the end of his life Charles Wells had so many paintings that “I used to sleep with them under my bed until it rose too high”, he told a local journalist.

Although widely exhibited, he was reluctant to sell any of his work, commenting that he was, “not really interested in fame and I'm a poor man who doesn't need money as long as I've enough to feed my three cats. My idea of a holiday is a bus ride to Ilkley.”

Yet Charles, recovering from polio and a failing marriage, only began to discover his talent for art in mid-life - and had never painted at all until he started at Brighton Art College in the early 1950s.

Charles was born in Derby in 1910, but was orphaned at four when his railwayman father was killed in an accident and his mother died soon after.

He was subsequently raised in an orphanage, and after leaving school worked for 30 years as a clerk on the railway. In his early 40s he was struck down with polio and nearly died.

When he recovered, he was determined to change his life. He quit his job and went to Brighton Art College, motivated by a TV programme on painting he had watched, even though he had never shown any previous interest in or ability for art.

He later recalled that he “enjoyed being with the young people at art college. It cheers you up immensely”.

Despite his lack of previous interest in art, and encouraged by his tutors, he made good progress on the course.

After graduating from Brighton, he gained a teaching certificate and came to the Keighley district to teach art and crafts at Eastwood School, and to tutor adults on local part-time art courses.

He is still remembered in the district as a talented and approachable teacher.

In his own time Charles was he was a prolific painter and exhibited his paintings at group shows of the Bingley Art Society at Cliffe Castle, as well as at Cartwright Hall and at the Goosewell Gallery, Menston.

He had a solo show in 1973 at Cliffe Castle and a joint exhibition with Bingley artist Myriam Burton, again at Cliffe Castle in 1989.

His style evolved over the years. Early paintings were influenced by the work of Primitive and Cubist painters, his later work being characterised by impressionistic landscapes and still life subjects.

Scenes with surreal and symbolist images also began to feature in his later paintings, connecting with past memories and episodes in his own life. Birds, cats, and his own person, were recurring features in these Symbolist works.

Charles lived alone and in 1990 collapsed in his cottage with a heart attack and was taken to Airedale Hospital.

A year or so earlier, his neighbour Errollyn Bruce had previously photographed and mounted over 30 of his beloved paintings in an album for him.

Charles took the album with him to hospital and had it with him when he died.

All pictures, copyright Errollyn Bruce of Hainworth.

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