Artist, Teacher, Naturalist, Writer
Eric Ennion was born on 7th June 1900 at Kettering in Northamptonshire, the son of a country doctor. In 1904 the family moved to Burwell on the edge of the Cambridgeshire fens where in 1926, after studying medicine at Caius College and St Mary’s Hospital, he joined his father’s practice.
From an early age Eric was fascinated by birds and with drawing them. In1937. He held his first London one-man show of sporting pictures at the Greatorex Galleries in 1937 and in 1945 he sold the medical practice, intending to earn his living as a freelance artist, writer and broadcaster.
Instead, in 1945 he took the opportunity to become the first warden of the pioneer Field Study Centre at Flatford on the river Stour in Suffolk, with his wife Dorothy. So short of money was the enterprise that Eric received no salary for the first year.
Eric was an inspirational teacher with a warm, outgoing personality. He was also extremely practical. When it started, the FSC had very little money and a lot of practical work had to be done before Flatford was ready to welcome its first students which it did in May 1946.
- For four years Eric ran courses on birds, insects, plants, freshwater and estuarine biology, and landscape painting – in fact on almost any subject connected with the countryside.
- Joined by an entomologist, John Sankey, and later by a botanist, Jim Bingley, they deliberately took courses in each other’s specialities to broaden their knowledge.
Love of Birds
It needs to be remembered that The RSPB had only a few thousand members in the late 1940’s. Birds were Eric’s first love, and for the 1948 season at Flatford, he doubled the number of special bird courses to six.
The Flatford courses were aimed at independent students – the “serious beginner” and the “seasoned amateur” – and he felt he needed to spread the word about the protection of birds. While at Flatford, Eric served on the Councils of the following:
- RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) and the
- BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) and was the latter’s regional representative for Suffolk and Essex.
1945-50 Flatford – Teacher, Warden, Author and Illustrator
While at Flatford (1945-1950) as well and teaching and running the Field Study Centre, Eric published three books, The Story of Migration (1947), Life on the Sea Shore (1948) and The Lapwing (1949), and illustrated several others. The Lapwing was the first of the Field Study Books series, published under the auspices of the Field Studies Council. He exhibited his paintings regularly and in 1948 held his fourth London exhibition at the Arthur Ackermann Galleries in Old Bond Street – mainly birds and landscapes from the Suffolk marshes, executed on toned paper.
1950 – Move to Northumberland
Under Dr Ennion, Flatford FSC was an undoubted success but as the numbers of students grew, so did the burden of administration. In 1950 Eric and Dorothy decided to leave Flatford and move to Monks’ House, a rambling grey stone-built house in the dunes at Seahouses in Northumberland. There they started their own privately run Field Centre and Bird Observatory.
Eric continued to write and illustrate books and exhibit his work. He had been making radio broadcasts since the early 1940’s appeared regularly on programmes such as The Naturalist and Nature Parliament. He published beautifully illustrated books for example, The House on the Shore and articles such as Countryman’s Log and a children’s book called Bird Study in a Garden. Eric also served on the Council of the British Ornithologists’ Union from 1959 to 1962.
1960 – Move to Wiltshire
In October 1960 Eric and his wife moved to the Wiltshire village of Shalbourne. There Eric produced many large works including:
- nine paintings of Brownsea Island which he presented to the National Trust and
- Birdwatching, (published in 1963) a book in the Pelham Practical Books series.
1970s – In the 1970s the couple made one more move to a building adjacent to their house – converted from an old watercress packing shed. Eric continued to paint and exhibit widely, and to run courses on wildlife and landscape painting. He was especially keen to encourage young artists. As Robert Gillmore wrote in his appreciation of Eric in British Birds, “he was a natural teacher who inspired both an enthusiasm for the subject and a devotion to himself”.
1981- End of life
Eric’s wife, Dorothy died suddenly in September 1978 at the age of 83. Eric was devastated. Eric’s eyesight had already begun to deteriorate but undeterred he changed his style, drawing birds and mammals, often quite small, in landscape settings.
As painting became more difficult he turned to writing again and planned a book on wildlife and landscape painting with his friend and pupil Geraldine Siggs.
Eric Ennion died on 28 February 1981. He had been sketching in Savernake Forest only four days previously. He was the author of eleven books, illustrating all but one of them himself, and the illustrator of a similar number by other authors.
For more information and to view some of Eric Ennion’s stunning wildlife paintings, please click http://www.ericennion.com/