Colin van Geffen ~ Historian, artist and public speaker

Today I’m going to interview Colin van Geffen who has been a wonderful support to me Headerlogocolinthroughout writing Ancasta Guide me Swiftly Home, not only in points of local aviation history in the Solent area but in designing the covers of my first two novels from the Riduna Series. If you need an artist or public speaker he’s your man! (details at the end of the post)

BACKGROUND

After spending thirty years working in industry Colin became a self employed Illustrator / Artist, covering a wide range of subjects from Animals and Aviation, to Maritime, Landscapes, Portraits – in fact most subjects in a variety of styles from cartoon to formal, and in a choice of media from pencil, pen & ink, or painted in either watercolour or acrylics. As well as commissioned paintings (eg forRE Regiment to paint the unveiling by The Lady Soames of D-Day Memorial (Arromanches)) Colin  has designed many series of Christmas Cards for local organisations.

In the last decade Colin has worked at Solent Sky Aviation Museum, Southampton and at Calshot Castle but he has also always taken an active part in various community projects including the Fawley Historians, Bournemouth Red Arrows Association, Solent Aviation Art Society and the Poole Flying Boats Celebration. You can the results of one of his contributions where he researched, collected & created visual displays of aviation history (sea planes & flying boats) for permanent display at the former RAF Station Calshot. 

Welcome to my blog Colin. Thank you for joining us!

Have you always been interested in flying boats? Was it living at Calshot that inspired you and why?

>> I’ve has a lifelong interest in aviation & developed a special interest in flying boats after I had the rare opportunity to fly on one in 1976 (my first ever flight) when it arrived at Calshot – a former RAF flying boat station, which is only a few miles from my home in the New Forest. I didn’t know what to expect (& couldn’t be called a good sailor) but the experience was unlike anything I had ever done before. I never imagined that I would still be talking & writing about it over 35 years later.

What a wonderful memory and since you now give many talks about The Schneider Trophy. Why do you think it is so important that we remember it?

>> I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the 50th anniversary celebrations of the last Schneider Trophy Contest, as it took place close to my home. The more I learned about it – the evolution of the aircraft & their designers, the developments of new materials to produce better engines & strong airframes, the technical & political obstacles that had to be overcome, inspired me with a renewed interest in aviation as a specific subject plus the lack of reality that in school-day history lessons, that focussed only on names, dates, wars and laws.  I discovered the genius of those pioneer aviators – designers, engineers and pilots, and the contributions that their commitment to advancing the new discovery of aviation offered to the world. It is true to say that without the perception of Jacques Schneider in wishing to develop stronger, more capable seaplanes and flying boats, for the purposes of expanding business and travel around the world, our country could never have had the Hawker Hunter, or the Supermarine Spitfire, or the Rolls Royce engines that powered them. We can learn a great deal from studying our history and applying the lessons learned in a positive way; the Schneider Trophy story and its legacy are outstanding examples of what can be achieved from lessons learned.

Yes I agree. If history is relevant and interesting then it can begin a lifelong desire to learn, a very current topic of interest in the news!

I think in a way you’ve answered this question but since the whole of the area around the Solent is seeped in aviation history, do you have a particular interest in Supermarine and RJ Mitchel and why they should be remembered?

>> My interest in RJ Mitchell & his achievements at the Supermarine Aviation Company (& later Vickers Supermarine) are inevitably linked to my interest in the Schneider Trophy and both are sources of great interest for several of my Illustrated Talks, which I have researched, written & presented to audiences of wide interest groups, across the country and further afield, for many years. I do not consider myself to be an expert on Mitchell or Supermarine, but I have accumulated some specialist knowledge, along with other designers & manufacturers. I believe that it is essential not to perpetuate the fiction and myths, but to set them in context & to pass on the facts and the magic. I am not an engineer but have worked ‘on the periphery’ of the aviation industry, for some well-known & internationally respected companies. In passing on my acquired knowledge I aim to make it as interesting to my non-specialist audiences as it is to me and I always keep in mind the possibility that there could well be someone in the audience who knows more about the subject than I do – so I don’t attempt to baffle or bluff my way through, for the sake of expedience.

I must get down to one of your talks one day. I imagine, what with your passion for the subject and your sense of humour you must have audiences spellbound. Now returning to your artistic life and interests how long have you been painting? I know you paint all sorts of subjects but why do you think art is such a good way to represent the history of flight in the Solent?

>> I have been drawing and painting for as long as I can remember – since I was first able to hold a pencil, I think (certainly my parents reminded me on several occasions of my early attempts to be creative on my newly-papered bedroom wall. I do have a vague memory of trying to find, or make, shapes within the random patterns on the paper. I won a couple of art competitions at school, in the days when manufacturers of household products or foods would encourage schools to participate in national competitions. I was also ‘invited’ to paint the scenery for the school play, at a time when I was unable to participate in sports lessons due to a long-term injury. Sitting in the playground helping classmates with their art homework was another pleasure, as was helping during art classes, when the art master was absent through illness. 
I found my art was commercially acceptable and having an interest in most things around me from landscapes, wildlife (and pets) people & portraits, marine & other transport subjects, I was and still am happy to cover most types of subjects, in a variety of styles and media (some samples of which can be seen on my websitewww.colinvangeffen.co.uk). I am proud to have examples of my work presented or on permanent display at several official sites including RAF Scampton, the home of the Red Arrows; in the HQ of 101 Squadron at RAF Brize Norton and in Portcullis House, London as well as aboard a number of Royal navy ships. 

But aviation is what inspires me most as it offers the challenges of such a variety of shapes, textures, colours, backgrounds and reflections and an essential understanding of each individual subject in detail. The aviation history of the Solent, so close to my home, offers a wide variety of choices in subject matter encompassing any and all of these criteria.

What a wonderful life you lead Colin inspiring and rewarding I should think. Many thanks for joining us today. I know that you would be very pleased to hear from any group who would like a talk or anyone interested in your artwork.

All the best to you and yours.

Colin van Geffen can be contacted on 023 8089 7793      or     cvg@hotmail.co.uk

His website it well worth browsing! www.colinvangeffen.co.uk

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Filed under Ancasta, Early Flight, Schneider Trophy, Solent, The Solent

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