Kerry Lee Revisited: cartographer, commercial artist, socialist
For the first post of 2016 I’m delighted to return to the congenial company of artist and pictorial map-maker Kerry Lee (1902-1988). Two of Kerry’s children, John and Bronwen, and John’s wife Elizabeth have all been very generous with their time and knowledge. I am also indebted to my friend and map-trade colleague Rod Barron, who has deftly recovered information from public records which had been lost to the family. It seems there’s plenty more to say.
Kerry’s relatives were schoolmasters in East Anglia. He was named for his mother’s uncle, Kerry Rix (1851-1940), who was an estate manager at Somerleyton in Suffolk.
In the 1901 Census, as Rod has established, the Lee family are recorded as living at No.8 Cavendish Rd on the Wadham Estate in Walthamstow in Essex. Kerry’s elder brother, Donovan Henry, was then only 8 months old. His parents are William Ernest Lee (26), then a draper’s assistant and Annie Eveline Lee (nee Rix) (22). They had been married in the final quarter of 1899. Apart from their eldest son Donovan (1900-1972, known as Don), Annie’s sister, Kathleen M. Rix (20) who appears to have also been a draper’s assistant, was also living with them along with a servant, Emily Tassall, aged 14. Kerry was actually born on 4 December 1902, reportedly in West Ham (though Rod thinks it was probably Walthamstow) and not in 1903 as I wrote in the previous post. (The birth was probably registered in the first quarter of 1903.) By the time of the 1911 Census, the family have moved to No.16 West Bank, Stamford Hill, and William Ernest is now an Educational Representative for an International Correspondence School. Kerry is now 8 years old and listed as having been born in Essex. Annie Eveline’s sister is still living with them, now a Correspondence Clerk and Student (Christian Movement). Two other guests are also staying with them at this time. His family suspect that a rift between Kerry’s parents precipitated a spell in Switzerland for both Kerry and Don, if only because it seems odd to have sent the boys away at such a young age. According to family lore the brothers stayed with Swiss explorer and long rider Aimé Félix Tschiffely (1895-1954). In the 1920s Tschiffely undertook an epic three year ride between Buenos Aires and Washington DC. However, if the Lee boys stayed with him in the early 1910s, he must still have been in his teens; in his early twenties he moved to England, where during a relatively brief stay he became a teacher, a prize fighter and a professional footballer. Evidence for any direct link between Tschiffely and the Lee family has unfortunately been lost. One of the surviving postcards written to Kerry’s mother (dated 1913) is from an H.H.Tschiffely, and it seems more likely that they stayed with the family rather than A.F. Tschiffely in particular. It is perhaps also worth noting that Kerry wrote to his mother (rather than both parents), and her address changed during his stay in Switzerland (one postcard is redirected).
The picture which emerges, then, is that Kerry was born into a solidly respectable Edwardian family in the foothills of the middle classes. He had no bohemian or artistic relations that we know of, but his own upbringing was somewhat unconventional. His parents’ separation and divorce may have been considered mildly scandalous by contemporaries, compounded if (vide the formation of ‘Don Kerry Ltd’, above) the children and their mother had established a household with Martin Harvey some years before her divorce. There was sufficient money to send the boys to Switzerland and to allow Kerry to go to art school. He made frequent references in later life to his time as an art student in Paris, and there’s no reason to doubt that he was there as a young man. We have a tantalising glimpse of Kerry’s desire to take his artistic ambitions further in his early twenties. The Western Daily Press (10 December 1925) reports on an art exhibition held at The Oak Studio, 1 Unity Street, College Green, Bristol: a joint exhibition of pictures by a local Bristol woman called S. S. Fox (a specialist in the painting of trees and faces), by Kerry Lee and by Donald Hughes. The pictures had previously been shown in London. Hughes was an artist and poet, a member of the Bristol Savages (a West Country version of the London Savage Club) and one of Bristol’s leading auctioneers & estate agents. He and Kerry had travelled together in the Savoie region of France, and many of the works on display had been painted in and around Annecy. However, it was some years before Kerry was able to return to his chosen career. By the late 1920s he had a family to support, and as we have seen described himself as ‘estate agent’ on his marriage certificate. He is also known to have collaborated with his stepfather, working as a draughtsman. At some point in the mid 1930s, through necessity or choice, he embarked on a second career as a commercial artist. Blandford Studio occupied the space above the stables for United Dairies on Blandford Street, near the corner where it crosses Baker Street, with a small flat at the top of the building which Kerry rented out. Kerry established ‘Associated Artists’ there with the intention of sharing costs, although apparently the area of Kerry’s own studio shrank until he was sharing a tiny space with a Polish architect. His children remember it as a friendly community, though most of the other artists were firmly in advertising. One of them drew ‘OK Saucey boy’; another went on to draw Dan Dare for the Eagle (John notes: “I am not sure whether the man drawing Dan Dare for the Eagle comic, was Frank Hampson himself the creator of Dan Dare, or one of his assistants. But I do remember that whoever he was, he was very keen on fortune telling through astrology”). Leslie Cusden wrote car advertisements, thoroughly researched and often highly technical. It is inconceivable that Kerry Lee was unaware of other artists working in the field of pictorial maps, such as MacDonald Gill, but there is no evidence that he knew any of them personally. Blandford Studio survived the war. The United Dairies’ stablemaster sat on the roof fielding incendiary bombs away from his horses. From February 1941 Kerry was attached to Air Intelligence, preparing cut-away drawings of enemy aircraft, as discussed in the previous post. Four of these are reproduced in Donald Nijboer’s book, “Graphic War” (Boston Mills/Firefly, 2011). Kerry had returned to Baker Street by 1946, where he spent six months working on his London - Bastion of Liberty poster. The next twenty years were perhaps Kerry’s most productive. He was able to turn his hand to anything: decorative telegram forms, Christmas cards, even designs for Carr’s biscuit tins and other publicity material.
He designed a number of board games, such as ‘Taxi!’ (where the picture cards depict different fares and the tips they were likely to give), ‘Eye-Witness’ (‘a game of memory and detection’) and ‘Zoo Quest’ (‘based on David Attenborough’s television programme’), all marketed by Ariel Games.
But it seems to have been the maps which meant the most. Beneath this map of Liverpool is the tongue-in-cheek imprint “by the famous cartographer Kerry Lee”.
John recalls “walking round London with him one time and his telling me always to look up at the upper stories and roofs as well as the fronts of the buildings to get a feel of their true character”, almost certainly part of his process of preparation before making a map. Rod notes that the Tourist Association poster maps – London, Oxford, Stratford and Cambridge – were part of a concerted campaign to promote Britain abroad, especially in the United States, where many of these posters were distributed, marketed and sold through leading American stores, generating much needed foreign revenue and, it was hoped, encouraging increased numbers of US tourists to come to Britain in the immediate post-war period.
He was a committed socialist and a supporter of CND. He visited Russia circa 1961 to attend a peace conference, and to John’s occasional dismay was always ready to enter into a heated political debate at the bus stop.
Most of the time he confined himself to drawing cards such as the one above, but John recalls that on one occasion he was dangled over the railway bridge at Hemel Hempstead to paint ‘ban the bomb’ above the arch. The schoolteachers and other pillars of the community holding his legs felt he was taking far too long over the lettering – they didn’t want to be caught!
If you missed part 1 of our Kerry Lee special, catch up here