Percy Kelly Trail

The Town Council has arranged to adopt in the form of a display board a memorial to the local artist Percy Kelly. The memorial depicts examples of Kelly’s paintings & offers the reader an opportunity, through following a trail, an opportunity to visit the sites featured in his work. It covers a distance of around 2 ¾ miles & lasts around 1 ½ hours on foot. In the time since Kelly painted the town, it has seen many changes which make the walk even more interesting.

It is hoped that the trail will, by adding to the public realm, encourage local people & visitors alike to take

Born in Workington in 1918 into a poor & devoutly religious family of seven children, Percy Kelly could draw as soon as he learned to hold a pencil. He developed a style based around strong lines & dark vistas. He had no time for irrelevant detail or pretty views, & wasn’t interested in creating a photographic or conventional record. Rather, he wanted to make a good picture.

Kelly’s work is linear, graphic and simple. It has universal appeal. His charcoal drawings of the industrial coast of Cumbria made between 1958 – 1968 are unmatched in quality. Maryport, with its geometric design & breathtaking harbour vistas, appealed to his sense of design. It became one of his favourite places from which to work, especially from the brows at the north end & the Settlement at the south end of the town.

His extraordinary talent was admired by the rich & famous, including Sir Winston Churchill & Princess Margaret. Important people befriended & tried to help him, but he was averse to showing his work & seen as difficult to deal with, vacillating, changing his mind & cancelling exhibitions & sales regularly. He was described in ‘The Spectator’ as a ‘Troubled Genius’ & ‘The Guardian’ compared him with Lowry, Sheila Fell and Rousseau.

Neither Kelly nor those living around him had any idea of the value of the work which haphazardly filled every space in his small cottage in Norfolk, where he had moved & lived in self-imposed exile. Frightened of losing his supplementary benefit, he had secretly stashed away parcels of choice work, which he posted to friends and relatives to keep them safe and had then forgotten about them. Sadly, Kelly died intestate in Norfolk in July 1993. Many more collections of Kelly’s work were subsequently discovered & exhibited.