Art & Culture
A Tribute to Peter Woolcock (1926 – 2014)
The Peter Woolcock exhibition at the Bermuda National Gallery is full of surprises. Although Mr. Woolcock lived amongst us from 1981 until his passing in 2014, he was known mainly for his political cartoons. Only a few of us knew anything about his children’s book illustrations which are well represented in the show. This aspect provides us therefore, the rare opportunity of seeing a extensive selection of his illustrations. Underlying these works is his enormous ability as as a draftsman. Additionally, his playful, witty, at times satirical bent of mind are what makes his illustrations, as well as his political cartoons, so memorable.
Often accompanying his illustrations are verses that Woolcock wrote that are just as wacky as his art. Here is an example of one verse from his series called “Pandora’s Pets.”
“Each summer holiday from school
I clean out my piranha pool;
And while the job is being done,
I put the darlings, one by one,
Into the guests’ bath at the back…
But no one told my Uncle Jack.
I think those who take the line
that all the blame is purely mine
Should ask themselves: how could it be
That Uncle Jack just did not see
The bath was being used, and that
He did not look before he sat?
The exhibition is organized chronologically and if the viewers follow the exhibition’s chronological path, the first works seen, are his early ones. What becomes apparent is that, even as an adolescent, he was artistically very gifted. Know also that he was entirely self taught. One early work that stands-out, is his satirical depictions of Hitler which he created at the age of fifteen. Even then his artistic skills are impressive.
Probably most of us assume that Peter Woolcock was English born and bred, so another surprise is that he was born and grew-up in Argentina. His parents were, however from the UK, thus he was bilingual and lived his early life in South America.
At the age of eighteen, he joined the British army’s Royal Tank Regiment and saw service in Belgium, Holland, Germany and Denmark. All along he was creating sketches of his experience in the military.
After the war, Woolcock returned to Buenos Aires, where he was employed in the advertising department of Lever Brothers, however, he found his job completely uninspiring and in 1953, he returned to England and eventually found employment with Amalgamated Press as an illustrator of children’s books and comic strips. He stayed with that firm for 38 years.
It was in Bermuda that his second career as a political cartoonist developed. After arriving here, he looked about and thought he saw a possibility, drew-up a few political cartoons and took them to the Bermuda Sun. As they say, the rest is history. He pursued this line of work for about another thirty years, first at the Bermuda Sun and then the Royal Gazette. At the Gazette, after each year, he compiled his annual output and published them under the title, “Whoppened.” The 26th and final edition was published in late 2015.
Bermuda has been fortunate in that numerous individuals from elsewhere have settled here and have contributed so mush to our great benefit. Peter Woolcock was such an individual.