By Wendy Grove

Bryan Pearce was born on 25th July, 1929, in St Ives to a family who owned a butchery business in Market Place. They lived above the shop before moving to 6 Piazza, overlooking Porthmeor Beach.

Bryan was born with the congenital disease phenylketonuria (PKU), which affects development of the brain. He attended a special needs school in London, returning to St Ives as an adult.

Throughout his life, Bryan needed constant support, and his family, friends, and carers provided it here in St Ives, and enabled him to lead an active life in the local community.

Bryan learned to write using the cursive, joined-up form of handwriting taught to schoolchildren, and his childlike signature is instantly recognisable on his work. Bryan wrote a daily diary, which helped to train his brain to retain these basic skills. St Ives Archive has a collection of these diaries, which give a unique insight into his life. The extracts below are from November and December entries in the years from 1989 to 2006 (with the original imperfect grammar).  

Reading and music lessons were part of his therapy. He recorded on 2nd December, 1996: “I have been practising carols on my glockenspiel.” On 10th December, 1998, he wrote: “Today I wrote some Christmas cards for my friends.” A local teacher and friend, Win Cothey, gave Bryan reading lessons — on 11th December, 1995, he wrote: “Mrs Cothey came to give me my lesson early because Mr Cothey had to go to the Doctors.”

Bryan’s love of drawing and painting was encouraged by his devoted mother, Mary, who was a painter. He was mentored by Leonard Fuller at St Ives School of Painting, and said to his mother: “What would I do if I didn’t paint?” In 1973, 6 Porthmeor Studio became his workplace until his death. Bryan usually worked there six days a week, but on 7th December, 1989, he wrote: “It is an East wind I did not go out today because it is to cold for me.”

Bryan Pearce

Tate St Ives, the harbour, and St Ia Church were subjects for his work, and are mentioned many times. On 25th November, 1997, he wrote: “I have been drawing in the church”, and three days later: “It is Advent Sunday today. There was a special candle in the church.”

He mentions buying painting materials, such as on 16th December, 1996: “I have been up to get some paints from Lanhams new shop near the library.”  Bryan was a member of the Old Cornwall Society, the Penwith Gallery, and the Arts Club, and mentions the weekly Arts Club Wednesday Tea and Talk sessions and Christmas parties.

On 11th December, 1999 he wrote: “Tonight I went to Truro Museum To see my pictures.” Three years later, he saw his work in Plymouth. How he got there, and with whom, is not recorded, but the names of many friends and carers who visited his home are mentioned. On 20th December, 1999, he wrote: “Janet Axten visited and brought mince pies”, and on Christmas Day, 1997: “This afternoon we had lots of people to came to see us We a party and lots of crackers I have presents.”

The final diary volume of 2006 shows Bryan working in his studio on Tuesday, 5th December: “I stayed on Picture then came home We dinner at lunch time.” He died six weeks later, on 29th January 2007, aged 77, after living a remarkable life and leaving a unique artistic legacy.