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The First Lady Pavement Artist
Of all the people and characters I’ve come across since I started researching this history of pavement art blog, none have intrigued me more than Alice Geneviève Coleman. I’ve found out so much about her, and yet, until now, knew barely nothing about her upbringing or home life. There is still much to know about Alice, but this fascinating little article represents the first known ‘interview’ with a Victorian Screever, and certainly the first to throw light on her upbringing with an actual illustration of her home…REMARKABLE!
Rumours of this, the very latest thing in women’s work, having reached my ears, I proceeded on an interviewing expedition, and after considerable trouble and endless inquiry at last had the good fortune to alight upon her at work on the pavement of a northern suburb.
In answer to a few questions, I elicited the following interesting information as to her career:—
“My father and mother were both in the theatrical profession, and early in life I was left to the charge of my grandmother, with whom I lived until I left school at the age of 14, when I obtained a situation as a clerk to a neighbouring butcher, and soon after fell in love with a travelling acrobat; but my grandmother objecting to my marrying anyone connected with the profession followed by my parents, I was sent away to some friends residing a little distance from London. This, however, proved useless, and at the age of 17 I was married and joined my husband in his performances. Ill health, however, preventing him from following the acrobatic business, he was forced to take up the profession of a street artist for a living. I was always very fond of drawing when at school, and took great interest in my husband’s artistic work, so that when he became too ill to go out, and it became necessary for me to do something to keep the wolf from the door, I determined to try my own skill in producing pictures on the pavement. Accordingly having selected a ‘ pitch,’ I commenced to reproduce some of the studies I had seen my husband execute. Several times, however, I had to give up in despair; but at last my efforts were crowned with success, and attracted a considerable amount of attention from passers-by, who liberally responded. Now that the great difficulty of commencement was over, I took kindly to the work, and think I can say, without self-flattery, that I have greatly improved.”
Mrs Coleman laughingly remarked that her first receipt was not in connection with her work, but from an old gentleman who, preoccupied with his paper, stumbled over her, and gallantly accompanied his apology with 6d.
Her receipts vary according to the weather, but she informed me she should think about 5 shillings would be striking a fair average. Of course, in wet weather and in winter her work is at a standstill, and at these times she remains at home painting cards, &c, and preparing her chalks, all of which she manufactures herself, with, the assistance of her husband, whom the weather similarly affects.
Considerable jealousy exists among her male competitors at the invasion of their territory by a woman, but it cannot be denied that Mrs Coleman’s work has a great deal of real artistic merit. Both she and her husband take all possible opportunity of studying Nature, taking especial interest in sunset effects, in which she excels, and of which she produced for my special edification some really meritorious specimens, fully justifying the remark she writes by the side of her pictures:—
“Some people say this is not my own work. If they have any doubt about it, would they kindly ask me to produce a picture before them, instead of running away with the idea that this is ‘one of the many impositions palmed off upon the public’ ? “
Original writer unknown
Published in the Westminster Budget; 8th December 1893
Alice G. Coleman wanted to travel the world through her art….I wonder if she ever did so? She is; without doubt, a true star, burning bright in the history of British Pavement Art. A pioneer of the paving stones in a day and age when lady’s just didn’t do such things…paving the way for the Suffragettes and the modern movement…it’s so true that the people who really make changes in history, are most often the one’s doing the smallest of things
If you are in any way related to Alice, or can offer further information on her life and times, I’d be delighted to hear from you; please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Written, transcribed and researched by Philip Battle
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