Magnolia stellata was the beginning of the painting journey, but the project started a long time before before the painting began. The idea came about because the Exeter St David’s Neighbourhood partnership wanted to save these lovely old cast iron lamp posts from being destroyed. They were scheduled for demolition because they were old! With the support of the local County Councillor and the Big Lottery fund, the lamp posts were fettled up and repainted in their original livery and I was commissioned to paint them. Now the Exeter St David’s and St James areas of the city are proud to celebrate the city’s engineering past (most of the lamp posts were cast in Exeter foundries) as well as the famous Veitch family who lived and worked in Exeter.
The Veitch family were 19th century plant hunters and nursery owners – they were the largest family run plant nursery and had businesses in Exeter and expanded to Chelsea. Members of the Veitch family were successful plant hunters (including John Gould Veitch and Peter Veitch) and the Veitch firm also employed plant hunters, including William and Thomas Lobb, Ernest Wilson and Charles Maries, who travelled the world in search of rare and exotic plants which the nurseries had extraordinary success in cultivating. At one point they had over 1200 plants introduced into cultivation which were previously unknown or new varieties.
The Veitch nursery in Chelsea ceased trading in 1914 but the Exeter firm continued until 1969 when it was sold to St Bridget Nurseries.
The lamp post trail consists of 17 period cast iron lamp posts and I’ve been commissioned to paint a Veitch plant on 16 of them. The 17th lamp post is a civic lamp post with raised a garland decoration and the city coat of arms which has been painted by signwriter Mark Hill.
There is a website which has more about the lamp posts here
The plants depicted on the lamp posts are all ones discovered or cultivated by the Veitch family. They may seem ordinary, but many of the plants the Veitch “firm” brought back are now gracing our parks and gardens as if they have always been there.
The plants started as line drawings made in a permanent pen straight on to the lamp post and then were painted in signwriters’ enamel which should be reasonably durable.
Here is a selection of the finished lamp posts to whet your appetite.