Down memory lane with Peter Tuffrey - Lifetime devoted to art

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When Eric Platt retired from teaching in 1979, he had been associated with Doncaster School of Art for nearly half his life.

When Eric Platt retired from teaching in 1979, he had been associated with Doncaster School of Art for nearly half his life.

This was made possible by his becoming only the third Doncaster student to pass the entrance exam to the Royal College of Art nearly 40 years earlier.

Eric was born on May 2, 1915 at Cudworth near Barnsley.

There was already a history of artists and craftsmen within the family since his paternal grandfather was an amateur painter and master decorator and his maternal grandfather was an amateur portrait painter.

Eric’s father, after serving an apprenticeship with the Great Central Railway Company in Manchester, taught music as well as being involved with piano repairing and tuning.

He too was a keen amateur painter – in oils and pastels – of landscapes and topographical subjects.

After a short move to Wakefield, Eric’s family settled in Doncaster in 1927 and bought a confectionery business in Cleveland Street.

Eric’s education was at St George’s Church School in St George Gate.

As well as providing illustrations for the school magazine, he also contributed imaginative essays.

Headmaster Harry North encouraged him with his artistic studies and was instrumental in obtaining a place for him at Doncaster School of Art, above the old Library in St George Gate.

Teaching methods differed greatly from those of today.

Whereas students today are left to themselves to develop their ideas, in Eric’s student days the emphasis was primarily on learning to draw to an accepted standard.

Furthermore, students did not immediately embark on a course of study, Eric spent about five years at the school before deciding to take any examinations.

By 1934, when the School of Art moved to Dockin Hill Road, Eric had become interested in commercial art.

He printed business cards for himself, announcing that he was a commercial artist, obtaining work from shops and factories.

The money he earned helped supplement the family income since he received no grant to support himself at the art school.

Considering his future in more detail, Eric realised that if he seriously wanted to pursue a career in either commercial art or teaching he would have to gain a place at the Royal College of Art.

In time, he passed the entrance exam – only the third Doncaster student to do so – and studied in the engraving school under two of the most renowned etchers of the day, Robert Austin and Malcolm Osborne.

During this time, he executed many northern subjects mainly through etching.

In his final year at the RCA, he won the Engraving School’s silver medal. He also won the RCA Travelling Scholarship and the Victoria & Albert Museum’s armour drawing prize.

But the world was at war and Eric was called up in May 1940, although he was granted exemption until his RCA examinations were completed.

A year later he left England for the Middle East.

As his ship made a lengthy detour, avoiding possible attack, he soon discovered his artistic ability could be utilised on the voyage and he was ordered to produce drawings of a range of artillery equipment.

The wrecked and burnt out vehicles and other features of desert warfare provided him with many interesting subjects as he served in India, Burma, Belgium and Germany before being demobbed in 1946.

He taught in Wakefield, returning to Doncaster in 1947 where he obtained a post at Doncaster School of Art.

Eric was one of the tutors who sought permission to include the National Design Diploma (NDD) on their curriculum.

The course produced many competent students including Alan Ball, who became a successful animator, making a large contribution to the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine film; Malcolm Colbear, head of a large advertising agency; and Shirley Clarkson, creator of the world-famous Paddington Bear toy.

He also taught painting and decorating to apprentices studying for the City and Guilds of London in Painting and Decorating and the North East Region Certification Examination.

The time-consuming occupation of teaching thwarted his ambition to become a commercial artist and he took every opportunity to produce works of his own whenever time allowed.

That work can be placed into four groups: people working, views of Doncaster and other areas, wartime views and abstract card reliefs.

His ability to capture the relevant characteristic details of a subject via the medium employed is the most interesting aspect of his work.

Although he has not broken any new ground with either his approach to the formal values of art or with his subject matter, his work nevertheless reflects the sheer joy of grappling with the problems inherent in the complex subjects he selected.

During his years of retirement he produced a number of Doncaster-related pictures and some may be seen here.

From the mid-1990s he lived in Cheshire.