Gravesend showcases its youngest-ever artist

The youngest-ever prize winner of the Tony Larkin Memorial Prize held her first exhibition in Gravesend on Saturday the 19th and Sunday the 20th.

More than 100 paintings by five-year-old Isabel He were displayed at the St. Andrew’s Arts Centre along the banks of the River Thames.

Sue Williams of the Gravesham Arts Council said a competition was held last summer for children to draw or paint their favourite place in Gravesend.

“We had so many children under the age (of) 11 who did these most wonderful drawings – we more or less gave them all a prize,” Ms. Williams said.

Isabel’s parents Daniel Lacey and Ming Zheng could not be more delighted about their daughter’s début exhibition

When an exhibition was held last year featuring all the drawings of the prize winners, the Gravesham Arts Council member was approached by Isabel’s parents, Daniel Lacey and Ming Zheng.

“Isabel’s parents came in, showed me her pictures, and said they would like to have an exhibition here of Isabel’s art,” she said.

“Here at Gravesham Arts, we are very keen to reach all different members of the community – young or old – and we thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to promote the work of a five-year-old.

“It’s, as I said, the youngest-ever artist we’ve ever featured,” Ms. Williams added.

The Gravesham Arts Council then met with Isabel’s parents before Christmas and discussed the details of the would-be exhibition.

“Normally, artists would have to pay to show their work in here,” Ms. Williams said, “but we have a policy for every new artist that we discover, they can have an exhibition for free.

Five-year-old Isabel holding one of her self portraits. Her influence mostly came from her mother, who is an accomplished artist and professional art editor herself

The organiser and Isabel’s parents met in Christmas to confirm the dates of the exhibition, and on Friday (the 18th) night, they used three hours to place all of Isabel’s paintings onto the notice boards at the Arts Centre.

“I was just totally amazed about the amount of artwork that she’s done, and while we were doing this, she was sat there drawing – it’s her favourite thing to do,” Ms. Williams said.

Similarly, Daniel Lacey, Isabel’s father, said he could not be more delighted that his daughter has won the competition, and eventually, an opportunity to hold an exhibition at the Arts Centre.

“It’s amazing, really,” Mr. Lacey said, “it’s more than what we’ve ever imagined. Just hope it’s a springboard to better things now ’cause we really think she’s talented.”

Matisse-in-the-making: one of the many dozens of Isabel’s paintings

The event was publicised on Facebook and the Arts Council’s website, as well as through local schools and the Gravesend Visitor Information Centre.

“We were lucky enough yesterday to have one of the Deputy Lord Lieutenants of Kent (Dr. Bhargawa Vasudaven) come in and look at the exhibition,” Ms. Williams said.

The Arts Council member said many parents have brought their children along to the Arts Centre over the weekend, where a colouring table was set up for them to play with.

The St. Andrew’s Arts Centre was founded initially as an Anglican church in 1868 – with the help and generosity of Charles Dickens and other townsfolks, nonetheless.

It was located next to the Mission House for seamen from squandering all their money at the pubs in Gravesend, according to Ms. Williams.

“The local minister used to row out to the boats and go in – sailors always like the ship to be blessed before a voyage.

“He would hold a service; he would christen any babies who’ve been born before they start while they were on their ship; he would also marry people.

“And then a group of people got together and decided that this (church) should be built to save the vicar from having to row out,” she said.

Saved from demolition: Gravesham Borough Council bought the church in 1975 and leased the building to the then-newly created Gravesham Arts Council

Whilst other churches were built on an east-west axis, St. Andrew’s Church was built on a north-south axis due to limited land, the Arts Council member added.

In 1975, the Gravesham Borough Council purchased the would-be torn down Church due to lack of funding for repair work, and leased the building to the then-newly created Gravesham Arts Council.

“We run this (building) now as an arts centre: we hold exhibitions; it’s hired out in weeknights for drama classes or yoga; and that’s where we are,” Ms. Williams added.

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