Garth Allan 1935 – 2017
WELL-KNOWN waterways artist and canal supporter Garth Allan has died.
From the 1980s onwards he was a familiar sight at waterways festivals, with his home-built stand displaying waterways and coastal watercolours. Such was his recognition that he was given free stand space at the 1991 London Boat Show at Earls Court, where the theme of the year was the reviving canals, with a mock canalside village sponsored by British Waterways.
For a man with no formal training, Garth had astonishingly managed for many years to live off his art, including publishing Christmas and greetings cards of his paintings, and as a picture framer. Together with Allan Firth (by contrast a fully trained artist and retired art teacher who painted in gouache) – he was probably the greatest waterways artist of his time. Both achieved that rare thing: an instantly recognisable and unique style of good popular painting.
Born into a middle-class Birmingham family, he graduated in engineering, becoming managing director of a multi-national bookbinding business. However two things were in his blood – canals and painting. When he married Anne, they moved onto the former working narrowboat, The Nautilus, in Birmingham’s Gas Street Basin. During those five years afloat, Garth became chairman of the Staffs & Worcs Canal Society, and in 1962 led a massive campaign which resulted in the saving of the 16 locks of the Stourbridge Flight.
Despite his artistic achievements, he set far greater store on his five years in this role. “I would certainly like to think I have left the world a better place, but of the many things in which I have been involved, the Battle of the Stourbridge Canal is the one activity I would like to think achieved that aim,” he said.
Garth and Anne later moved to Guildford, where he decided to become a full-time artist, building his Lime Tree Studio in his house. He had other interests including an electric train that ran around his studio, bee-keeping, a passion for ballroom dancing and singing in several choirs.
In the early 1980s, Garth was a founder member of the Guild of Waterway Artists which flourishes to this day, aiming to truthfully depict all aspects of the waterways and ‘to promote excellence in Waterways art.’
Garth last displayed at the 2014 Braunston Historic Narrowboat Rally in the Guild of Waterways Artists marquee. But he continued with his painting almost to the end.