Cyril Deakins

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The Independent Online

Cyril Edward Deakins, artist, illustrator and teacher: born Birmingham 5 October 1916; married 1949 Sylvia Leeming (one son, one daughter); died Chelmsford, Essex 10 January 2002.

Cyril Deakins made his home in the small town of Great Dunmow in Essex, a county which – despite recent connotations – has strong artistic traditions. Although his work can be found in collections as far apart as the Victoria and Albert Museum and the University of Oklahoma, his emotional ties were to East Anglia.

He was born in Bearwood, Birmingham, in 1916 (a twin), the son of a grocery manager, and educated at Christ's College, Finchley, in London, where he took every opportunity to develop his lifelong passion for opera – during the Wednesday-afternoons games periods he deliberately missed the bus to the playing fields and headed off in the opposite direction to the Golders Green Hippodrome.

From 1934 to 1940 he studied under Norman Janes and J.C. Moody at Hornsey College of Art and Crafts until called up for military service: his Second World War years were spent in the Army working on Ordnance Survey maps. When he returned to Hornsey in 1946, he still looked like a gangling teenager. He was very tall and remained thin all his life.

After Hornsey he taught at Edmonton County School, lectured in illustration at Willesden School of Art and worked as an art editor before he and his wife, Sylvia, felt able, in 1957, to set up as freelance illustrators; their commissions included astronomy books for Patrick Moore ("eccentric but very grateful"), textbooks for schoolchildren and work for Oxford University Press. As line drawing was gradually replaced by photography they were obliged to return to teaching. From 1971 to 1981 Deakins was head of art at St John Payne School in Chelmsford.

Deakins worked in all manner of media: oil, tempera and watercolour as well as etching and wood- engraving. His work was traditional, sound and thorough – landscape, figures, flowers, still-life and architecture. Easy-going by nature, he was happy to be regarded as a jobbing artist, perhaps to his own detriment.

For the Millennium celebrations in 2000 he designed both a stained-glass window for Great Dunmow parish church and – in the spirit of entente cordiale – a mural for a sports hall in Great Dunmow's twin town in the Dordogne.

Simon Fenwick

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