Curious coincidence as man wins Bob Olley painting that looks like his South Shields shipyard worker grandfather


South Shields Museum and Art Gallery tells the story of shipbuilding and ship repair in South Tyneside with its Pushing the Boat Out exhibition.

Out of hundreds of raffle entries, the name of Jarrow-born Graham Whitehead was drawn.

The exhibition lasts until November 12.

Winning the raffle was particularly special for Mr. Whitehead, as maritime heritage runs deep in his family. Graham’s father and grandfather both worked at John Readhead & Sons on the River Tyne in South Shields.

It’s a place Bob Olley drew a lot of inspiration from when creating his series of paintings for Pushing The Boat Out.

The painting that was raffled depicts a shipyard worker lighting his tongue with a red-hot rivet. Mr Whitehead’s grandfather, John Short, worked as a welder at the Readhead shipyard in Shields.

He was photographed in the 1965 book “Readheads 1865-1965” lighting a cigarette on a welding torch, reflecting an uncanny resemblance to the man depicted in Bob’s painting “Fag Break.”

‘Fag Break’ by Bob Olley.

Mr Whitehead said: “Winning this picture seems like fate. I’m a huge fan of Bob’s work and have followed his life and art over the years.

“While the shipyards are gone, family memories survive through the artwork and photographs of my late father and grandfather.”

Graham Whitehead, who has followed the life and work of Mr Olley, is also the proud owner of an original brick of Bob’s iconic 1979 painting ‘Westoe Netty’.

Mr Whitehead said: ‘I am absolutely delighted to have won such a special piece of art, I will be hanging it right next to my Westoe Netty brick.’

John Short lighting a cigarette with a torch.

A total of £1,985 was raised through the sale of raffle tickets, with all proceeds going to the South Shields Museum.

The museum said Mr Olley is well known for his advocacy in the North East and is passionate about supporting his local community, especially vital communal centers like the South Shields Museum, which is why he has agreed to raffle one of his emblematic paintings.

The artist, a former miner, is traditionally more associated with works related to the region’s coal mines, but has turned to scenes from the region’s other major employer of its industrial past, the shipyards.

The Pushing The Boat Out exhibition will be on view until November 12, 2022. The South Shields Museum & Art Gallery has extensive collections of local art representing the area by local artists.

Graham Whitehead and Bob Olley

The art collection dates back to 1873 when the old Mechanical Institute building reopened as South Shields’ first free public library.

The museum now occupies the entire former library building and the art collection consists of approximately 500 items, including works by nationally renowned artists such as Charles Napier Hemy (‘The Last Boat In’), Thomas Sidney Cooper, (‘The Approaching Storm’) and Harold Harvey (‘Blackberrying’).


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