Imagine that you’re in your attic, whether or not you have one. In the corner, there’s an old box. And inside the box are photos of people from 150 years ago, from the Victorian era of England.
Only they’re not people; they’re animals. There’s an alligator in a top hat. A hare, paws in pocket, with a golden chain to his watch fob. A kingfisher in long dress, sitting by a pond.
Who are these . . . people? Are they relatives? And if so, from mom’s side or dad’s?
You have just entered the Anicurio Collection of Keith Harrop, a North Idaho artist who, since his childhood in Stoke-on-Trent, England, has peopled his world with unique characters from his imagination. As a young boy, he worked under self-enforced weekly deadlines, creating comic books that he published for an audience of one, his older brother, Steve.
Determination and Imagination
“My family was poor,” Harrop remembers. “But oddly, I never actually realized we were until many years later. I know that may sound strange. But we were so loved and cared for by our parents that it was never relevant. We just accepted what we had.”
And while what he didn’t have a lot of were artist materials, that lack didn’t stop him from spending almost every night drawing and painting.
“I didn’t have a sketchbook, so I would spend a lot of time drawing on the back of long pieces of old, rolled up wall paper.
“I do remember my first sketchbook. My Dad, who worked for a bus company, made it for me. The pages were old bus timetables, blank on one side and print on the other. A cardboard cover and shoe laces holding it together. I filled that book from beginning to end with ideas and sketches.
“But I packed my creative side away as I grew older. England has a way of doing that to you.”
Upon emigrating to the U.S. in his adulthood, however, Harrop picked up pencil and paintbrush again, reconnecting with his old self and making art a central part of his life. He became art director and creative director in the places he worked, and eventually transitioned to full-time independent artist.
The Anicurio Victorian Collection
“My paintings deal each with one moment, one story, or one emotion only,” Harrop says. The Anicurio Collection, which he developed last year, grew out of his enthrallment with old, stained, and aged Victorian and Edwardian photos.
“I’m fascinated with the introduction of photography to the Victorian Era. It was the first time that people of all classes could enjoy equality because previously, only the rich were able to present themselves in portraiture, via oil paintings.
“But now, if only for an instant, people of all classes could wear their nicest outfit, stand in front of the same backdrop, and present themselves in their best light. Almost eliminating social class.”
And so he created his own Victorian and Edwardian images, with the unique twist that his subjects are animals. Well-dressed animals.
“I want this series to suggest something that was rediscovered by the viewer. An inherited artifact from a mysterious benefactor?” Or something stumbled upon in that musty attic, laying at the bottom a chest, buried beneath old dusty clothes and fading hand-written notes.
“Each original illustration is carefully hand drawn in pencil,” Harrop says. “Once finished, I age and treat them with various dye methods, to resemble an old, dusty, antique, Victorian photograph.” Tea, coffee, soy sauce, or lemon juice and a heat gun transform a drawing finished five minutes ago to an historical image long buried in an aging chest.
A Positive Reception
Harrop introduced the collection in the second quarter of 2021 by sending out postcard samples. Gratified by their reception, he developed a line of prints and post cards. He recently showed these at the Museum of Art and Culture in Spokane, in conjunction with the Downton Abbey exhibit there. He sells his work throughout the U.S., as well as to collectors in the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Denmark.
Like people in old photographs, each character in Harrop’s Anicurio Collection has a story. And, like the people who discover those old photos, we often don’t know what that story is, who those . . . people are. That’s the delight of it — creating the stories, using our imaginations, joining with Harrop in exploring this magical, mythical Victorian world.
But first, it would be good to determine: are they from mom’s side, or dad’s?
Contact the gallery, located at 219 East Main Street, Dayton, WA, by phone at 509.382.2124 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Monday through Friday, and by appointment. Visit the Wenaha Gallery website online at www.wenaha.com.