Knaresborough-based illustrator Caroline Miekina is to stage an exhibition of her illustrations on the life and times of Blind Jack Metcalf, as part of the tri-centenary celebrations of his birth. The exhibition, held as part of the town’s 2017 feva Festival, will be open free to the public in Knaresborough House from 11 am to 4 pm on 19 and 20 August.
Caroline’s original illustrations are based on Blind Jack’s stories recounted to an anonymous author when he was around 70-years of age. These were collected into a biography of the man published in 1795 as The Life and Times of John Metcalf, commonly known as Blind Jack of Knaresborough.
“They are wonderfully expressed and contain a rollicking set of adventures and escapades that I felt deserve visual interpretation,” said Caroline. “Despite the considerable handicap of losing his sight aged six as a result of smallpox, Jack Metcalf was an extraordinary character who overcame his disabilities to become one of the foremost road builders in the country.
“Along the way he had a series of very physical adventures such as diving to recover bodies from the River Nidd, climbing chimneys, eloping aged 22, acting as night-time guide and enlisting as a musician to accompany the local militia into action.”
Caroline’s exhibition is in response to her studies for an MA in Image and Time-Based Media at the School of Arts at Harrogate College, where she is also lecturer. She opted to explore the eventful life of this local character using sequential imagery and graphic story-telling. Her primary aim was to bring the adventurous spirit of the young John Metcalf to a wider audience by presenting it in a form with which young adults will engage. “The original narrative contains the only contemporary portrait we have of him, drawn when he was 78,” says Caroline. “From this I have attempted to peel back the years to imagine him as a boy and in his young manhood. I imagine him as a cross between Johnny Depp and Liam Neeson – a bit of a lad with a striking physical presence.”
Caroline has used a variety of stylistic approaches to present her images. “I know from teaching that the 14 to 18 age group can be difficult to impress. Visual material needs to be presented in a style or styles that will grab their attention and make them want to find out more about the subject.”
Blind Jack was born on 15 August 1717 and there is a raft of activities underway during feva, including concerts, talks on his life and a birthday party. A Blind Jack ale brewed by Rooster’s will be served at the Lions beer festival from 11 to 13 August. A part of the A658 to the Kestrel roundabout has been named the John Metcalf Way in his honour.
And his fiddle has been restored and will be on display during the Festival.