Just before half term I looked out of my office window – a rare occurrence, as I am so dedicated to my work that I seldom have time for such distractions. I spotted three alpacas being led to the lawn outside the Design Centre. I re-examined my cup but concluded it really was ‘just’ coffee and left the room to investigate.
I bumped into a slightly relieved-looking Head of Art Lucy Caddel, who had been worrying that the alpacas might not make it through the traffic. Lucy spent two years in Peru and has an in-depth love and knowledge of all things Peruvian, including alpacas. “I love alpacas,” she told me. She had decided that as the theme for this year’s ‘Big Draw’ is ‘Drawn to Life’, she’d use alpacas as the live models for a House Art Competition one day and an art event for lots of primary school children the next. “Exciting, isn’t it?” she enthused. I said nothing, though I did notice that there seemed to be a certain reluctance on the part of at least one of the Three Amigos to join in with her plan…
But happily, he eventually agreed to get into position…
Athough he took a little while to strike as good a pose as Amigos One and Two….
In case you are wondering what The Big Draw is, it’s actually the world's largest drawing festival and it takes place annually in about 25 countries all over the world - though not yet in Peru, hence the fact that alpacas have to come to Shrewsbury to join in. Susan Coles (The Big Draw Associate, Cultural Educational Consultant, Artist, school governor, former President of NSEAD) sums it up:
"The Big Draw is a superb focus for any school - allowing all subjects areas to appreciate the value of drawing and visual literacy and to support the use of transferable skills and knowledge. Drawing is a language that resonates with all subject areas. Drawing is communication that breaks through barriers. And, it helps us speak when words are not enough." (There's lots of inspiring stuff on their website: https://thebigdraw.org/)
As the arts continue to be squeezed and cut back in the educational world, The Big Draw attempts to turn the spotlight on creativity. Happily, the arts are thriving at Shrewsbury School, but the talented folk of the Art Department are always keen to encourage the rest of us to release our inner Van Goghs and Tracey Emins, so they’d laid on a whole series of artistic events and challenges for us over the week. And Lucy explained to me that she had invited some of the local primary schools to come and enjoy doing some art during Field Day, using our beautiful site and facilities.
The weather, and the alpacas were able to be stabled outside rather than in the Art School, which could have raised ‘issues. So all was set for two days of artistic endeavour and alpaca appreciation.
The House competition involved each House providing a tutor and student who would compete to produce the best alpaca-inspired picture within an afternoon.
The artists settled down, paint brushes in hand, the alpacas posed, and it was time to have a chat with Caroline and Ian Oakes, who had kindly provided the alpacas for the afternoon. If you want to see what they get up to, I can heartily recommend a look at their website https://www.clivewoodfarm.co.uk/.
Caroline and Ian have been great supporters of the School. Ian is an Old Salopian and their son Nick was Head of School House. Nick now sports a healthy beard and I wondered if that had been inspired by living in the vicinity of 40 hairy alpacas. “I live in Manchester,” Nick told me.
The alpacas are called Eusebio, Ronaldo and Olaf. Ian apparently gets to name the boys and tends to use his knowledge of great footballers, although he could not quite remember how Olaf got in. Caroline thought maybe one of her grandchildren had been involved! Caroline gets to name the girls, and they tend to be named after powerful females. I was thinking Fatima Whitbread, but apparently Beyoncé is more on the right lines.
I have a strong affinity with animals and was inspired by Dr Doolittle (not a surprise to some) to learn their language. I approached Eusebio and asked him how he was enjoying life over here. He immediately questioned my stereotypical view that he was not British and told me he was born and bred in Shropshire. Ronaldo chipped in (as he frequently does) and informed me that they were part of a 60,000-strong population of British alpacas. “We are the best genetic herd in Europe,” Olaf told me.
Apparently, they like the weather. “We like the weather in the UK as we can cope with minus 40 due to the 41 inches of coat that we wear,” Eusebio said. Ronaldo tried to eat my pen before telling me that they are part of the camelid family and are basically camels without the hump. “So we don’t get as angry as camels,” Olaf added.
The alpacas are very happy at Clivewood Farm. “We can go trekking and we provide the community with wool to weave and make into clothes.” they all said at once.
I looked at some of the art work that was being created around me. Henry Farmer had forgotten how good he was at art. “I don’t think I utilise enough colour in my life, although I do follow the reds,” Henry commented.
He continued to tell me that he liked the smell of the alpacas – although not that much, as he had to leave with his picture half completed. Luckily Andy Barnard was on hand to finish it off. “I have always been a good finisher,” he told me.
Helen Brown’s painting was very dramatic, as one would expect from the Head of Drama. I asked her where her inspiration came from and after much thought she told me, “It’s from their fluffiness”.
Morgan Bird and Archie Taylor were making it quite clear which house they were from by their frequent daubing of pink.
Mr Smiter was also keen to show his allegiance to green, as was Casper Hamilton whose ghostly green alpacas were quite halloweenesque!
Mrs Kirk, Miss Hankin and Mrs Matthews created paintings that should have been in an art gallery, and it has to be said that standard in general was incredibly high.
I asked the alpacas what they thought of the paintings and they all agreed they looked so good you could eat them.
I have concluded that I am strangely drawn to alpacas but if I had a camel with no humps I would call it Humphrey!
The sun continued to shine the next day too, and the Three Amigos made even more amigos among all the junior school children who came to Shrewsbury to paint them in The Big Draw Part 2: Field Day. Have a look at the article: Field Day, Michaelmas 2019.