Tony Lewery

Canal author, canal historian and Canal art expert.

The author of the Museum page and the Traditional Craft and Folk Art sections of Canal Junction is Tony Lewery, an artist and designer with a very wide range of practical and academic experience. He trained at Brighton College of Art as a painter but his subsequent career has taken him into the fields of theatre design, museum conservation, traditional folk art, old fashioned signwriting and modern exhibition design. He is a lecturer and the author of four major books, and a skilled practical craftsman. He was the main designer for the production of the Chester Mystery Plays in both 1987 and 1992, and of the special millennium year pageant for the streets of Chester in the year 2000. He continues to work as a designer and props maker with a number of theatre and community arts companies throughout the country. Recent work includes the construction of a massive temporary clock tower in Leeds city centre for D. C. Events from Newcastle on Tyne, a pair of giant cupids for a firework spectacular in Tatton Park Cheshire and a huge lantern dragon for the Sidmouth International Folk Festival, 2001 in Devon.

At the other end of the scale a series of striking descriptive murals for British Waterways at Gloucester in 1988 led, rather surprisingly, to the commissioning of a set of commemorative stamps for the Royal Mail in 1993, which were very well received.

Tony LeweryIn 1995 he worked with the National Waterways Museum at Gloucester to produce an important temporary exhibition about canal boat art ("Roses and Castles" 1995). This led on to the development of a major Heritage Lottery funded gallery devoted to the subject of Boat and Barge Painting (Painted Boats). Tony designed the layout and contents in consultation with the curatorial staff and painted two fresh mural panels as part of the display. But he paints boats too!

Tony has a continuing and expanding obsession with understanding and interpreting the history of vernacular culture, and in presenting it in an interesting, accurate and entertaining way. He offers a wide range of lectures on folk and popular art. He can be contacted by email to

His books are:
1) Narrow Boat Painting - David and Charles, Newton Abbot, Devon, 1974. ISBN 0-7153-6771-4.
This was his first book, a comprehensive description of the painted traditions of the narrow boats of the English canals, and remained virtually the standard book on the subject for 20 years. It has now gone out of print, superseded by his new book 'Flowers Afloat' (see below), and is rapidly becoming a sought after collector's item.
2) Signwritten Art - David and Charles, 1989.ISBN 0-7153-9273-5.
The first book to discuss signwriting as a folk art rather than a commercial craft, it has become a valued source book for designers and lettering artists who are interested in the special human qualities of hand painted lettering, the elegance and the fun. It went into a second print run but that too has now sold out.
3) Popular Art, past and present - David and Charles, 1991. ISBN 0-7153-9495-9
An all embracing look at British folk and popular art as it is today, trying to remind the reader that there is still a broad underlying visual culture, important to us all. Probably too broad for comfort, trying to relate the history of certain recurring imagery as well as individual craft subjects, this book never found a proper audience and was eventually remaindered. (The author is still proud of it, despite its drawbacks.)
4) Flowers Afloat - David and Charles 1996. ISBN 0-7153-0145-4.
A lavishly illustrated history and description of the art of the narrow boat, exploring the traditions and way of life of the men and women who developed it. It contains the names and short biographies of many of the professional boatyard decorators, and analyses all the various origin theories. The standard work. More details.
Tony Lewery has also produced two demonstration video tapes about canal art:

FFloating Castlesloating Castles
A detailed practical demonstration of painting roses and castles, taking the viewer through every stage of painting a traditional water can, from basic undercoat to final varnishing. The colours and the brushstrokes are clearly demonstrated, the choice of paint, how he mixes it, and the quality of brush he uses - a mass of helpful information for anyone wishing to take up the art.

Traditional Transformation
A complete step-by-step introduction to the art of wood graining as practised by the canal boat painters of the past, from the simplest comb graining to more elaborate patterns of heartwood and figured oak. He decorates a traditional boat cabin from start to finish, shows historic examples and discusses the tools and materials - a fascinating record of an enthusiastic craftsman at work.
Running time 75 minutes.

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