James Lindsey Bird is among the best known of Darlington artists. Dickie Bird or JLB, as he was known to pupils and colleagues alike, was the art master at the Queen Elizabeth Grammar School (QEGS). He held the position from 1948 until 1961. His teaching career had previously taken him to Hugh Bell’s School in Middlesbrough and to the School of Art in Batley, where he was Head of Painting.
Lindsey was born in Crook in 1903. He was educated at Middlesbrough High School, the Department of Fine Art at Newcastle. He gained a Royal Exhibition to the Royal College of Art, where he was a contemporary of Henry Moore. A travelling scholarship from the Royal College of Art allowed him to visit France, Switzerland and Italy. He was described as one of the star pupils of Sir William Rotherstein, Principal of the Royal College of Art. He was awarded a bronze medal in Brussels and Paris in 1947 for engraving. Critics agreed however that he never received the recognition that he deserved – ‘something to do perhaps with the fact that he was a retiring and self-effacing man’, as the Northern Echo wrote of him in April 1976.
Art and Exhibitions
Portraits, particularly those of children and of the QEGS staff, are works for which he is particularly remembered. Some were pencil drawings, such as that of Arthur Holland shown here. Others were captured in oils or watercolours, including that of Bug Allen, the biology teacher, which can be viewed by following the link. JLB was also actve in supporting art in the local community, as a committee member of the Darlington Society of Arts.
Arguably his most noted commission came in 1964 when he was asked by old boys of the Grammar School to paint Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. Lindsey was invited to Clarence House where the Queen Mother sat for him. The resulting portrait is now part of the art collection of Darlington Borough Council. It can be seen, together with a number of other works by James Lindsey Bird, on the Art UK web site.
James Lindsey Bird ARCA ATD DIP NID died in 1972 at Scorton, near Darlington. A retrospective exhibition of his work was held at the Darlington Art Gallery in Crown Steet in April 1976. It included numerous works on loan from friends and colleagues. The exhibition encompassed watercolours, pastels, oils, drawings and lino cut prints, showing the versatility of JLB’s talents. Subjects included a number of Darlington scenes, such as a watercolour of Locomotion No. 1 which he painted in 1961. A preparatory sketch for that painting is reproduced here. It shows the locomotive on its plinth at Bank Top Station. Regional works included pastels of Swaledale, Teesside and Tyneside landmarks. The oils on display include a variety of still life subjects, together with a self portrait, which he painted in 1949.
Lindsey’s son Jon Bird became a highly talented and popular artist. He specialised in ‘lumpy acrylics’ of the Whitstable and Herne Bay area, where he lived until his death in 2015. Jon was instrumental in establishing the Fishslab Gallery in Whitstable, where an annual art competition continues to be held in his name.