James ‘Alfie’ Merryweather
Born 1854 – Died 1935
Alfie – A Ship Painter’s Assistant
Until recently, a full-length portrait painting of “Alfie” Merryweather (c.1930), had been exhibited in our Steel, Steam & Submarines gallery.
Alfie is depicted in the painting as a man of noticeably short stature standing upright and looking sideways on. He is clad in a yellow oilskin waterproof jacket, a pair of heavy-duty trousers and worn work boots, suited to outside working conditions. Alfie has a well-trimmed beard and moustache and is standing on a wooden box whilst holding a paintbrush. Alfie’s short stature is interesting due to his physical role at the Dockyard as a ship painter’s assistant.
A Portrait of a painter’s assistant
Our research into Alfie’s life and upbringing, has led us to believe that Alfie’s short stature in adulthood was most likely attributed to childhood malnutrition. He was born in exceptionally impoverished circumstances.
The portrait of Alfie Merryweather was completed around 1930 by local artist P.V. Jarvis – appointed by the Dockyard as Inspector of Painters. Jarvis was an amateur artist, but a gifted one.
Throughout his painting career (1930 – 1948) Jarvis specialised in painting senior officials linked to the Dockyard’s Ship Painting Department. Alfie was not a senior official and therefore not a typical subject matter for Jarvis to paint.
WHAT’S REALLY INTRIGUING IS the question, WHAT MOTIVATED JARVIS TO PAINT ALFIE MERRYWEATHER?
Through our research and interpretation of the paining, it may be that Jarvis was drawn to Alfie’s skill as a ship’s painter, by not letting his physical stature get in the way of his working life.
RESEARCH PROJECT OF ‘ALFIE’ PAINTING WITH DISABILITY HISTORY FOCUS GROUP
The Historic Dockyard Chatham in partnership with Curating for Change Fellow, Suchitra Chatterjee, has formed a Disability History Focus Group. The group, consisting of volunteer researchers, have spent the past 12 months uncovering and exploring disability histories within our collections.
One of the researchers, Zara Parker, took a personal interest in researching the painting of Alfie due to her own lived experience.
Zara has shared that her own life had been difficult due to her being neurodivergent and having to undergo an operation that hindered development and growth of some of her bones and muscular tissue.
Curate for Change Fellow Suchitra Chatterjee believes that “in looking at Alfie, Zara was able to look into herself.”
Zara said she instantly felt a connection with Alfie after seeing the painting for the first time. Zara’s response to the painting was that Alfie ‘seemed so determined…” unashamedly poised whilst standing on a box to afford him more height.