Hanging proudly or languishing in darker recesses, Joe’s paintings are still the subject of great interest over forty years after his death as is evident from the response to the web site established from his extensive records.
One of four brothers and two sisters Joe was forever drawing in and around the family Tannery in Appleyard Lane, Armley.
Upon leaving school he attended local evening classes at Leeds School of Art where his fondness of animals gave rise to his interest in Romany and Circus life.Gaining a job in window display and general advertising Joe’s painting was limited to weekends and weekday evenings putting down the scenes he was beginning to love and know so well, Airedale, Wharfedale and Washburn Valleys.
His first exhibited painting, an architectural study of Adel Church Porch, one of two hundred at The Yorkshire Artist’s Exhibition at Leeds City Art Gallery, in 1934, was something to his credit.
Horses and figures soon became evident with the Spring Exhibition at Bradford – two entered – two accepted! One of them “Morning Exercise on Greenhow Hill” had according to Joe horses with giraffe-like necks!
“Buckden” his first sale, in March 1935 at the Cartwright Memorial Hall Annual Spring Exhibition, was sandwiched between an Epstein drawing and a Henry Rushburn, which filled Joe with more pride than the two-guinea sale fee.
Frequent visits to “Whitelock’s” in Leeds welded his friendship with fellow artist Jacob Kramer, a forthright critic, whose kindness and comments encouraged Joe.
Still longing to be able to paint what pleased him, one August morning, he gave his notice, collected his cards and that was that! His parents realising that he was happier on his own, encouraged him to sketch and paint in the country, the back streets of Leeds and the canal side. Kirkstall Abbey and Temple Newsam became his favourite haunts.
Jacob recommended he approach the Yorkshire Post who gave him space of three columns width by 6″ deep each Saturday in their Weekly Edition.
This small contract proved to be his salvation for regular pay gave him a free hand to draw in black and white any subject with a Yorkshire accent. His first assignment – Polo on the Stray at Harrogate – proved horses would play a big part in his career.
Conspicuous at his easel a Polo player asked Joe to paint two polo ponies and accepting the fee of two guineas Lord Barnby thrust his card into Joe’s hand.
Another commission came the next day when a lady said it was her pony featured in the photograph and with a series of Polo players on his easel, asked for a similar sheet of the Ladies match. Lady Margaret Drummond-Hey, a keen polo player, ultimately featured in the page of sketches.
On his second assignment, Woodhouse Feast, he was spotted by Jim Corrigan sketching his roundabout and asked if he could buy a sketch. The sketch was published and the drawing he did for Jim was delivered on the Friday.
Many more assignments followed – all making good material for his pencil.
One Friday afternoon a chance opportunity arose in the reporter’s room, saying more in fun than anything, “Take your pick, any sketch ten shillings,” a young man, putting aside those with horses, asked “Will you accept £10 for the three?”.
David Astor, had come to the “Yorkshire Post” to increase his knowledge of newspaper work and seeing more of Joe’s work suggested he did the black and white drawings for a series of Yorkshire Professional Huntsman Biographies. Their first biography was Charles Littleworth of the York and Ainsty.
In 1937, he showed a portrait sketch of “Golden Miller”, Miss Dorothy Padgett’s champion chaser, at the Bradford Spring Exhibition.
Later that year, he took a studio at Kennels Farm, Knayton Moor, situated at the foot of Boultby Bank where Tom and Madge Fletcher and their only son, Jimmy soon convinced Joe his hounds were much better than his horses. With Tom’s horses forever at his disposal he had Tom to thank for his advancement in horse portraiture.
It was all good fun and he enjoyed every minute of his stay there undertaking an ambitious sketching tour, which was published in the Dalesman in May 1938.
Almost blind in his left eye, the war saw Joe drafted into the Pioneer Corps, rising to Corporal in his five-year service.
He married Enid in March 1940 and took every opportunity to travel back to his Leeds studio from his postings in Bradford and Carlisle.
Still finding time to travel with Bertram Mills and Fossett’s Circus’s, attend horse fairs, follow hunts, undertake commissions and exhibit his normal subjects on a regular basis in the West Riding, one sale, according to the Sunday Times of 1941, “gave a vivid glimpse of an Army Boxing Tournament”. His wartime sketchbooks particularly reflect barrack life and characters.
He designed the Corps own Christmas card for 1941 and painted two shields bearing the Leeds Coat of Arms for the officer’s and men’s quarters of the ex US destroyer HMS Leeds.
His lion studies particularly impressed at his one-man show at the Bradford Civic Playhouse Cafe in 1942.
He regularly compered Army concert parties, performed as a cartoonist and was Santa at Christmas parties for the soldier’s children.
Hardship followed the war so Joe delivered newspapers and groceries to supplement his income and allow time to attend Leeds Art College where he later became a part time tutor, to amongst others, Frankie Vaughan.
With the birth of his daughter, Joyce, in 1945 and myself in 1948 he took further part time tutoring work at the Swarthmore Adult Education Centre and Leeds College of Bakery, where he taught cake decoration and design.
From his Headingley studio, the front room of our first floor, two storey flat, Joe did not waste much time during these years, celebrating his return to civilian life with a one-man show at the Leeds Fine Arts Centre in February 1946.
He wrote and illustrated “Riding through the Ridings”, an account of coaching days along the Great North Road, from Doncaster to Scotch Corner, though still unpublished, can now be enjoyed on this web site.
By the end of 1947 he had exhibited over two hundred different works.
He co-founded Otley Arts Club with, amongst others, Janet Rawlins’ father, Eddie.
Undertaking many commissions, including portraits of “Dante”, “Diredawa”, “Airborne” and “Steady Aim, one of Joe’s more unusual commissions was for a painting of a marbles tournament between Lady Docker and a number of Yorkshire sporting notabilities in aid of Cancer Research.
I believe his most prolific year was 1953 when seemed to produce many large oil paintings.
Joe, an active Rotarian, became the “eyes” for the blind at Headingley, when he commentated for a small group of blind people.
Toffee tins, jigsaws, playing cards, menus, pub signs, sauce labels and numerous Fine Art Publications represented his commercial work along with a regular commission from “Holly Leaves”, the Christmas Edition of Sport and Country, funding our holidays – days away.
These days away were agricultural shows, walking in the dales, delivering to galleries, beagling, hunting and sometimes polo, always returning home in the evening to teach or paint.
Not so at the weekend, those evenings were dedicated to the family. A Subbuteo pitch – finger tipped table top football to the uninitiated – was lovingly painted on the back of my favourite picture, which I had the good fortune to see a few years ago and is featured on the front of Joe’s Home page, although the pitch had been permanently protected by hardboard, covering our handiwork!
Joe was a member of numerous Arts Clubs and Societies and established his reputation further afield when he was invited to show alongside Sir Alfred Munnings and Lionel Edwards at a Broadway Gallery in 1955. He was also invited to paint the beagle packs maintained and hunted by the students and cadets of Eton College and the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth.
Technology eventually arrived, in 1958, when we moved to Cookridge and a telephone was installed – still no TV.
The wooden summerhouse studio caused quite a stir when the doors faced away from the road to make our “garage” appear back to front.
The lack of car never deterred Joe from traveling to commissions, flying to the most distant one in Ireland.
Joe’s astute marketing gained many commissions and lucrative contacts from his regular exhibition stand at Harewood Horse Trials. These were some of our favourite “days away” and only eight miles from our doorstep. It had all the pageantry of the military, show jumping, horse trials and country fayre.
Probably his most ambitious project was to illustrate “The Cranesbill Caravan” for Dorothy Una Ratcliffe.
To commemorate the Golden Jubilee of the Doncaster Museum and Art Gallery, Joe was commissioned to paint the 1959 St. Leger, which is in their collection with another ten of his paintings.
Thursday 15th September 1960 was not a date for our family to forget. I vividly remember my Uncle Ralph standing below me on the back door steps. He didn’t need to say anything. Joe was killed when he fell from a bus at Lawnswood roundabout on his way to Kettlewell.
Eric Taylor, principal of Leeds College of Art, made this fitting tribute.
“There will be so many people who mourn the loss of Joe Appleyard that on behalf of all his artist and teacher friends in Yorkshire I would like to pay a tribute to his greatness.
We all knew him as Joe, for above all he was a straight forward, kindly man and a friend to everyone. His paintings, too, were clear, straightforward expressions of the horses and the countryside he loved so much. He developed a name for himself in a comparatively short time for his excellent horse portraits.
Joe was an entirely loveable character who will be missed greatly not only in Yorkshire but also in the length and breadth of England. He will be missed in many of the great houses, as well as the small cottages and his great abilities have, I know added much to the happiness of students and friends of all ages in the schools and art clubs in Yorkshire.”
Courtesy of the artist’s website.