Alfred John Wise - The artist, the loner and the eccentric.
Alfred John Wise was born in Toronto, Canada in 1908, the youngest son of Thomas and Florence Wise. He had one older brother Thomas Wise, who later married Elsie and they had one daughter Margaret. Alfred's father, Thomas Wise, was a builder. He built the house they lived in during their time in Toronto, located at 123 Pinewood Road. However, the winters were harsh and Florence missed England, so they returned to the UK around 1916. They first settled in Reading, later moving to Yardley Road, Kings Heath, Birmingham where Alfred won a scholarship to attend Birmingham art school. This was the UK's first municipal school of art located in St. Margaret Street. The school archives have a record of his attendance between 1922 - 1927, and some early surviving pencil sketches of his work.
As a young child, his artistic talents were evident, and he was favoured for his skills, apparently gaining great affection and respect from his parents. Later, he also showed a flair for dancing, teaching rumba classes, where he would dress for the occasion in brightly coloured shirts.
Alfred spent most of his working life as a botanical artist engaged by the RHS at Wisley, Surrey where he created watercolour paintings for selected plants, often of those winning prestigious medals and awards of merit from RHS flower shows. He was also once commissioned by Sanderson's to create a fabric design. Apparently, he placed a bee on one of the flowers, and when asked to remove this he flatly refused causing a rapid end to this business opportunity.
He lived in a caravan in the grounds of RHS, Wisley. It was, by all accounts, an eccentric artist's paradise, strewn with pots, paints and brushes. The roof leaked and was patched with old newspapers. Occasionally, he would visit his brother, mother and father for a meal; at this time they were all living nearby in Merrow, Guildford. After the caravan became uninhabitable, he bought a boat on the River Wey; however, this was also neglected and eventually sank one night whilst he was asleep in bed.
As a man, he had a striking personal appearance with a mass of dark, curly hair, a beard and he'd often smoke a pipe. He would holiday only occasionally, but always alone and choosing remote destinations such as the Scottish islands or Sark. He never married, or had any children; he was a reclusive character who lived for his art. He sadly died in Guildford in 1985.
To date his artwork has remained largely unseen. The originals are held at RHS, Wisley and Lindley Library, London. In 2014, his sole surviving relative (his brother's daughter Margaret) secured the copyright to his entire collection of almost 1000 botanical works of art.