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Norfolk artist helping to bring ballroom memories back to life

PUBLISHED: 06:30 09 March 2011

Jen Leonards painting the mural at Grays Fair Court, Norwich as resident Ivan Butcher (84) and Betty Hall (70) have a dance.
Photo: Andy Darnell

Jen Leonards painting the mural at Grays Fair Court, Norwich as resident Ivan Butcher (84) and Betty Hall (70) have a dance. Photo: Andy Darnell

Archant © 2011

A Norwich-based artist is helping to recreate the city's ballroom era of yesteryear and with it open up a host of happy memories for older people living at a housing and respite complex.

On Saturday, Jenny Leonard began work creating a large mural for the residents and visitors to Grays Fair Court Community Support Centre, in New Costessey.

The centre, which is run by Age UK Norfolk in partnership with Saffron Housing, opened two years ago.

The aim of the project is to brighten up the place and also provide a focal point and springboard for memories, for everyone using it.

Over the course of the next 10 days Miss Leonard aims to paint out a mural along the wall of the centre’s restaurant, which is a popular meeting point for the users of the centre.

Residents and users have all been involved in the project, filling in questionnaires about the era detailing things like the clothes they wore, hairstyles and popular tunes.

The 27-year-old artist, who has worked on mural projects across the world including Australia, New Zealand and Canada and is currently studying fine art at Norwich University College of the Arts, said she had drawn on old photographs as well as the comments and memories of the residents for inspiration.

The mural, which is already starting to take shape, shows the Hollywood greats Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire dancing across the floor, with a big band playing at the right-hand end.

Created using a mix of emulsion and chalk-based paints, the mural features splashes of colour amid a mixture of blacks, whites and creams, to highlight features such as a chandelier and the big band.

“There’s something for everyone,” Miss Leonard said.

“People have been saying what they think about it and I’ve tried to include everyone’s ideas.

“I had a lot of input from the questionnaires, where people have detailed the clothes they wore and how they had their hair.

“Mapping it out has been a case of researching era.

“My nan always talks about the dances she went to and I just thought it was something people could relate to,” she added.

“I don’t start from a big sketch, because I never really think you can get it right, but I’m putting figures in the foreground and the background and working along.

“It’s nice to have a big wall to work on and leave my mark. This is ideal for me.

“And at the end of the day, if they get bored, they can whitewash it off and do a new one!”

Already the mural has proved a bit of a talking point for those involved.

Ivan Butcher, 84, said it brought back memories of his ballroom days at the Palais de Dance in Lowestoft.

“I think it’s lovely,” he said. “It brings it all to life and it’s going to look really nice. In those days I used to wear a silk scarf and a Zoot suit, and the haircut used to be a DA!”

Molly Keymer, 79, said the mural reminded her of nights out in Norwich at dance venues including the Gala, in St Stephens Street, the Lido – which later became the Norwood Rooms – in Aylsham Road and the Samson and Hercules in Tombland.

“I used to have a beehive hair style and we wore stiff petticoats and long dresses, and stiletto heels,” she said.

“It was where I met my husband, at a Saturday morning tea dance.

“We used to do the waltz, quick step, slow foxtrot and tango. It was proper dancing not all this jumping about they do today!

“I think it’s wonderful and will brighten the place up.”

Gina Dennison, manager at Grays Fair Court, said she had been pleased by the positive response to the mural.

“We have got this large room and the idea was to have something that the service users wanted to see,” she said.

“We’ve never found the right person to do it, but when Jenny came she knew exactly what she wanted to do.

“Some service users have said that when it’s finished they would like to have a tea dance,” she added.

“So we will be booking a band, because they want to see it come to life.

“During the questionnaires, people started to talk about what they wore and where they went, and how they met their husbands, and the Americans who came over here in the war. It’s started to open up a host of memories, which is what we wanted.”

Are you involved in a special art project? Contact reporter Shaun Lowthorpe on 01603 772471 or email shaun.lowthorpe@archant.co.uk

To see more work by Jenny Leonard log on to www.jennyleonard.blogspot.com

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