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Fairground Artwork - A History Of Creativity

Fairgrounds as we know today are filled with large swinging rides and tall scary towers that drop you down, you know the ones? Well if you think back just over 100 years ago these sorts of things would have been totally unheard of in an early 20th century vintage fairground.

However the fascinating artwork and designs that come hand in hand with these rides are a tradition that dates back generations, encompassing scrollwork, hand painted lettering, woodwork and metalwork. These hand painted vintage fairground designs can still be found today with companies that still provide a very similar service today as it would have been in the late 19th and early 20th century. 

When did fairground art originate?

As early as the 19th century signwriting was a very common profession within the artist community, however those with a unique flair were reserved and required for the vintage fairground. 

With its unique and often flamboyant style it really went hand in hand with the exciting change of times that came about for the fairground in 1860’s. Fast forward to around 1930 and more uniformed jazz style patterns emerged, which were cheaper to produce as they could be produced by much less skilled artists working under instruction of a head designer.

In the early to mid 20th century there were still many artists that were highly skilled though, such as “The Master”

Who was the UK’s “master” fairground artist?

Fred Fowle was easily the most creative and sought after artist of the 20th century when it comes to bringing alive the fairground. 

Fred became renowned for his innovative and futuristic free hand lettering and scroll work with his work mimicking a 3d effect and even movement within the painting style. Although not what you would refer to as a household name, ask anyone with an interest in the vintage fairground or funfair and you can almost guarantee they know the name or some of his work.  

He started his career at the early age of 15 in 1929 under the wing of Edwin Hall, at the time an established fairground artist. This led him to learning the craft and understanding the intricacies of hand painting eye popping designs. 

Fred's career, like many other vintage fairground artists, was put on hold during the years of WW2 with the majority of efforts from throughout the country being focused on the war effort. 

Imagery inspired by Fred Fowle’s work

Post WW2 Fred re-ignites his passion for fairground art and continues back on his career path as an artist and sets up Hall & Fowle with Edwin Hall's brother, Billy Hall. Both fairground artists complemented each other’s strengths and used them to their advantage to solidify their place in the vintage fairground and entertainment industry. Billy focused on the more traditional figurative scenes and classical imagery and Fred in his signature futuristic scrollwork.

His marvelling effects were second to none and his painting technique relied on the depth achieved by applying multiple layers of colour and varnish to his work, this combined with the highest degree of accuracy, quality and detail. 

Fairground Art today

The fairground as we know it today carries a long line of history with it, including the artistry that we visualise whenever we think of the funfair. As the vintage fairground moved into the 20th century, wooden rides became less commonplace, being replaced by steel and iron works, encouraging not just the exterior of rides to be painted but individual pieces and carriages. 

However over time as trends change so have many of the visuals you see on the side of rides, going from Victorian style to rock n roll all the way through to virtual reality style imagery, that combined with the increasing use of airbrush technology has transformed the way fairground rides are presented.

There are still many companies such as Tooleys Amusements who still favour the vintage fairground style art as pictured below and they still continue this tradition today.

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