Talented Silverdale artist passes away

Josephine Whitehead.
Josephine Whitehead.

A talented artist who lived for many years in Silverdale has passed away.

Josephine Whitehead was born in Whickham, Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1926.

Her father, Ridley Burkett, was a watchmaker and her mother, Mary Alice Gaussen, a talented violinist and Huguenot.

She was brought up there with her elder sister, Mary Elizabeth Burkett. Her education was disrupted by the start of World War Two when her whole school was evacuated to Holwick Hall in Teesdale.

Here she gained her Matric. and studied piano to Grade VIII and continued to practise the piano every day until well into her 80s.

It was essential for her to pass her Matric to gain admission to University. Maths was her weakness and she always claimed she did not answer a single question in the paper but neatly laid out the method by way of answer. Clearly this was sufficient for a pass.

She studied for a degree in Fine Art at Durham University specialising in sculpture.

Art continued to be a passion she pursued throughout her life always exploring new and varied subject matter to draw, paint and carve.

While at art college she met her first husband, Pete Driver, and married soon after graduating.

Having lived with him at various locations including Skokholm Island and Harpenden, and various abodes including a gypsy caravan and a wattle and daub Tudor cottage, the marriage ended and she went to live in the south of France where her parents had retired to.

She was also expecting her first child at the time, Christopher, who was born in Perpignan.

Within two years she had a decision to make, whether to stay in France and Chris become a French citizen, who would then be called up for French National Service, or return to England.

Answering an advert in The Lady magazine, she returned to England to take up the position of housekeeper in the village of Silverdale on Morecambe Bay.

The position also involved driving and her employer put her through her driving test which much to her instructor’s amazement she passed first time. It was whilst driving her employer that she was, or more accurately her legs and ankles, were admired by a bachelor of that parish.

After some years of courtship Josephine married her second husband, Stanley Bamford Whitehead, in Marseilles, returning to the village as husband and wife, surprising much of the village, and two years later their daughter Ruth was born.

For many years she was content to bring up her family looking after the 24-roomed family home and pursuing her artistic interests in as much of her free time as possible.

It was not until Chris and Ruth left home that she started on a far more intensive pursuit of her artistic passion.

For many years visible across the bay from Silverdale was the growing structure of Heysham Power station, this had always been a source of interest and wonder to her and now she was able to pursue this and express this feat of engineering in her artwork.

She sought permission to paint on site and produced a series of works of the most incredible detail and accuracy capturing the building of the station from a variety of locations including from on high at the top of the power station, a point only accessible by carrying paints and canvas on the Alimak hoist, or if it were too windy up nearly 200ft of ladders!

She was also commissioned to paint a large mural. She chose four scenes of the power station and these are depicted on a wall at the back of the canteen, each painting some 7ft tall and 23ft wide and are still there to this day.

Finally, the upkeep of the house and the substantial gardens at Silverdale proved too much for them and they moved to High Lorton to be closer to their daughter.

Here, much of Josephine’s time was spent looking after Stanley but she still found time to paint the fells around Lorton. In 2003 Stanley died at the age of 94.

Josephine then moved to Keswick, being greatly attracted by the theatre, and she was an avid attendee.

She continued to paint and motorbikes became a recurrent theme in her work.

Josephine died peacefully at home on July 4 with her partner Peter Todd and daughter Ruth after a very short illness. Her funeral was on July 14 at St John’s Church in Keswick.