SILSDEN-born Jack Clarkson achieved renown for his pictures portraying the dying days of the Potteries towns.

He created an iconic legacy of industrial paintings that now hang in prestigious galleries across South Yorkshire and the Midlands.

Here Silsden art historian Colin Neville tells the story of the talented artist who set out in his crusade to capture changing times while he was Principal of the local art school.

JACK Clarkson - the sculptor, teacher, painter, and wood-carver - was born in 1906 in Silsden, the son of a clog iron maker.

He rose in his teaching career to become Principal of the Art School in Newcastle-under-Lyme in Staffordshire and achieved recognition for his paintings of The Potteries in Staffordshire.

Jack lived with his parents and siblings at 15 Tufton Street in Silsden. He displayed a talent for art from an early age and in 1921 began his full-time art training at Keighley School of Art.  

In 1927 he won a scholarship to study sculpture at the Royal College of Art, London, where his tutors included the Yorkshire sculptor, Henry Moore. Moore, in particular, was instrumental in encouraging and influencing Jack’s early sculpture styles, and later his industrial scene paintings. 

The two men had a lot in common. Both were from West Yorkshire towns, both came from working class backgrounds, and both men had grown up in terraced houses. And both were determined characters who sparked off each other.  

As his tutor, Moore urged Jack to focus on the overall form of a subject, and not its detail.  Moore would jokingly chide Jack if he became too absorbed in detail -  ‘stop clerking, Clarkson!’  he would say. 

Moore’s influence can be seen clearly in the painting, ‘Nocturne’, by Jack Clarkson depicting one of his own early sculptural works. “

After he graduated from the Royal College, from 1930 to 1944, Jack taught at Sheffield College of Arts and Crafts, initially as an art tutor, but rising to became the Head of the Sculpture department.

In 1945 he was appointed Principal of Newcastle-under-Lyme Art School, a position he held until his retirement in 1968.

The Art School held an important position in the region as a centre for training designers for local industry, and Jack became Principal at a time when the Five Towns of the Potteries were starting to flourish again after the war. 

However, by the late 1950s, the passing of the Clean Air Act, and cheaper imports from overseas, had begun to threaten the ceramics industry in Staffordshire. 

Jack began to witness the slow decline in the industrial landscape around him and was determined to capture images of the towns on the cusp of change. 

From the early 1960s onward he began to paint urban and manufacturing scenes, creating an iconic legacy of industrial paintings that can now be found in the permanent collections of the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Stoke-on-Trent, the Brampton Museum, Newcastle-under-Lyme, and Sheffield Art Gallery.

In retirement, Jack continued to live in Newcastle-under-Lyme, and returned to his earlier love of sculpting, and in particular working with wood.  He devoted much of his time to wood-carving and often returned to Silsden to see family members. During one of his visits he was commissioned to carve the reredos altar screen in the Silsden Church of St James. He died in 1986.

Jack is one of seven artists featured in the book Past Silsden Artists, published by the Silsden History Group in 2019, and available for £5 via the Not Just Hockney website at I would like to thank Stuart Clarkson of Silsden for his help with providing the family, reredos, and other woodcarving photographs for this article.