Artists mourn the death of guild founder and driving force Frank
FRANK Hodges – the driving force behind the formation of the Guild of Railway Artists, despite not being an artist himself – has died aged 79.
His death on February 10 has led to tributes from two of the guild’s fellows, including Philip Hawkins, who described him as “a lovely man, without whom there would be no guild.”
Warwick-born Frank, whose wide range of interests included music, walking, travelling, and brewing beer, became a railway enthusiast at an early age. Inspired by his grandmother’s house overlooking the town’s goods yard and the GWR London to Birmingham line, by the age of nine he had become a trainspotter.
That interest led him to co-found the guild with Steve Johnson in 1979 with an initial membership of 17 and Frank, who worked in local government for 47 years, was appointed secretary in 1979, administrator in 1982, and honorary chief executive officer in 1995, the role from which he retired in 2016.
During his tenure the guild staged 78 public exhibitions, which are a popular feature of the guild’s calendar, published five books, and saw its membership of both professional and ‘leisure time’ artists increase to nearly 150 worldwide.
Philip said: “Quite simply, without Frank there would be no guild. During my time as president from 1988 to 1998, I got know him really well as we spent a good deal of time together, particularly on long car journeys checking out exhibition venues and planning our strategies.
“He was a lovely man and a great encouragement to both new and established members over the years.
“He was no artist, as he very readily admitted, but he quickly learned what constituted a good painting.
“For many years his home in Warwick was used as a warehouse to store members’ paintings between selection and exhibition.
“What with this and many guild meetings at his home, his wife Diana deserves a medal for putting up with these intrusions for so long.”
In April 2016, following his retirement, Frank was invited to a meeting of the guild at the
Severn Valley Railway and to his astonishment was received by then guild patron Sir William McAlpine and guild president John Austin. He was taken on a special train headed by No. 7812 Erlestoke Manor carrying a ‘Frank Hodges GRA Founder of the Guild of Railway Artists’ headboard.
Philip remembers the occasion well: “The attendance on the day was one of the biggest ever seen for a GRA function. It was a wonderful day, and I and many others will never forget the expression of surprise, excitement and disbelief on his face when he first spied ‘his’ headboard on No. 7812.”
Of the event, Frank modestly told Heritage Railway: “At the end of the day I took home my memories and ‘my’ headboard.
“The guild members have given me much more in many respects than what I have given them – a love of art, the meeting of many interesting people, and working for some of the best artists in the world.”
Philip ended his heartfelt tribute by saying: “From 1979 until his retirement in 2016, he was the spark that kept every aspect of the guild’s operations firing, and many memories will always keep Frank very much alive for guild members past and present.
“With all that, together with his infectious laugh, he will be greatly missed.”
Malcolm Root, who like Philip is a fellow of the guild, spoke of Frank’s love of railway paintings, his enthusiasm, and his encouragement to members.
“I first heard of the guild in the early 1980s, and when I applied to join I was very apprehensive as I travelled to Frank’s home in Warwick to have some of my paintings inspected,” he said. “He suggested that we meet in a pub to have a pint, followed by a very infectious laugh – and who could refuse such an offer?
“I felt completely at home from the very start, and although I had never met him before, he exuded enthusiasm and gave me so much encouragement, as I am sure he did to other artists.
“After Steve Johnson left for pastures new many years ago, Frank single-handedly took on all the tasks, including exhibition organiser, magazine publisher and treasurer, and transporting paintings to exhibitions. He simply loved railway paintings, and with his supportive wife Di worked tirelessly for the benefit of others.
“I consider myself extremely lucky to have had a career in art, and this has been possible only because of people such as Frank. Thank you, my friend, for all you have done, we will miss you.”
Frank’s funeral was held at Oakley Wood Crematorium, Bishops Tachbrook, Leamington Spa, on March 15. As well as Diana, he leaves two sons.
Memories of Frank will doubtless be recalled by many at the guild’s next exhibition, Railart 2022, which is being held at Kidderminster Railway Museum from April 9 to May 1. The museum is based at the town’s Severn Valley Railway station, and the exhibition will feature 70 paintings. Admission is free, and visitors between April 21 and 24 will be able to enjoy not only the skill of some of the world’s top railway artists, but also the bonus of the railway’s spring steam gala.