Portrait Artist Of The Past: July

Thank you to everyone who entered June’s competition to paint the journalist Dorothy Lawrence (1896-1964). So many of you were inspired!

For July’s competition, we would like you to paint Percy Shaw (1890-1976) - the inventor of ‘catseyes’. Percy hailed from Halifax and had a fascinating story.

Percy Shaw

Download the image (via YorkshireLive)

Percy Shaw was a master of his own destiny. At thirteen, he left school and began his first job working at a blanket mill - a job he found dull and uninspiring. But rather than rest on his laurels, he took his career into his own hands by attending night classes and gaining a job as a bookkeeper.

But again, this new role didn’t meet his expectations and he ended up drifting from job to job. His first successful step into entrepreneurship came during World War 1 when he became a supplier of ‘heald wires’ for khaki puttees (a type of cloth band worn around the leg). And then later as a manufacturer of cartridge cases and shell noses.

Percy was imbued with self-belief and his father backed him all the way. Whenever he spotted an opportunity, he worked hard to fill a niche. Following on from the war, he remained self-employed laying tarmac drives and paths. But, in typical style, rather than hand roll the asphalt, he built a motor-roller to speed up the process. This was a huge success and gave him an advantage over his competitors.

It was during his time as a tarmacker that Percy first became inspired to transform the illumination of Britain’s roads. And, in true British style, he found that inspiration in his local pub, the Old Dolphin in Queensbury. When returning from the pub, drivers relied heavily upon the reflections in the tramlines to guide them safely home. Their headlights would reflect off the metal and provide a clue as to the road’s direction. But with the demise of the tram and eventual removal of the tramlines, the road’s became even more treacherous than they were already.

One particularly foggy night when Shaw was returning home, he descended a winding road through the village. It was a perilous journey as it was possible to plummet over the edge and down a steep drop. While tackling this tricky descent, Shaw’s car was brought to an abrupt halt when his headlights caught the gaze of a wandering cat. After exiting his vehicle, he realised that he had been driving on the wrong side of the road - dangerously close to the edge - the cat possibly saving his life.

As a direct result, the ‘catseye’ was designed/patented - following many iterations and attempts. And the rest, as they say, is history with the catseye remaining a vital part of nighttime navigation for drivers everywhere.

Percy Shaw was truly a one-off. A creative individual, a problem-solver, and a determined Yorkshireman that kept going despite the naysayers. Let’s do him proud with a first-class portrait for July. He’s probably looking down and wondering what you’ll all come up with.

Competition Rules: Every month, we’re asking artists to create a portrait of a figure from the past of our choosing. To enter, simply post your submission on Instagram and tag it with #portraitartistofthepast. Please do so by the last day of each month. We’ll then select a winner and showcase their entry on social media. Winners also receive £200.

July’s competition will run from the 2nd of July to the 31st of July.

Good luck!

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