Norman Thelwell, a name that brings to mind pictures of furry and devious little pony drawings, would have been 94 years old tomorrow. A legend in the equine world, most people would recognize a “Thelwell” from a mile away. Called the “unofficial artist of the British countryside” and possibly the most famous British cartoonist, lets get to know this iconic artist.
Norman Thelwell was born in Birkenhead, Cheshire, England on 3 May 1923. His earliest surviving artwork is a self portrait when he was ten years old. He enjoyed numerous trips to the North Wales countryside that continued throughout his life. After joining the Army in 1941, he traveled to India and around Britain, and his sketch books were tucked in a bag or pocket where ever he went.
Four years after joining the Army, he published his first cartoon in the London Opinion of an Indian subject, however it would be several years later until his cartoons took off. That same year in 1945, he was taking evening classes at the Nottingham Art School where he met a fellow art student and his future wife, Rhona. In 1949, they were married.
After the war, he retired from the Army to further pursued art. He took degree course at Liverpool College of Art, and by 1950 he started a career as an art teacher at Wolverhampton College of Art.
Two years later, he published his first cartoon for Punch, which he established a working relationship with for 25 years, including 60 front covers and over 1,500 cartoons in total. A year later, his first pony cartoon was published, that that was the start of the iconic Thelwell ponies.
“One day I did a pony drawing and it was like striking a sensitive nerve. The response was instantaneous. People telephoned the editor and asked for more. Suddenly I had fan mail. So the editor told me to do a two-page spread on ponies. I was appalled. I thought I’d already squeezed the subject dry. I looked at the white drawing block and wondered what on earth to do. In the end I dreamed up some more horsey ideas and people went into raptures.”-Norman Thelwell
Realizing he had a large audience and bright career as a cartoonist/illustrator, Norman stopped teaching and became the Thelwell we all know and love. His first book was published in 1957, called ” Angels on Horseback”. These new cartoons in his book were than published in other media outlets, leading to the famous creation of cartoon characters Penelope and Kipper.
Although he is mostly know for his cartoons, Norman was also a prolific landscape painter. Over 30 books about his work have sold over 2 million copies throughout the world, and have been translated into many languages, as well as his cartoons appearing on many different types of products like shirts, china, glass, door mats, socks and bedlinen.
Norman Thelwell passed away on February 7, 2004, in Romsey, United Kingdom, leaving his monumental amount of works to carry on his humor and legacy. You can find more information and many different types of merchandise featuring his work on his official website. All photos copyrighted and courtesy of http://www.thelwell.org.uk