Artist & Teacher
Stacey Hopper was a teacher of Art, wartime illustrator and for most of his career a caricaturist of some considerable merit.
Stacey was born on 28 April 1909 and brought up in Aberaman where the Hopper family had been long established as painters, decorators, signwriters and oil merchants. The first member of the Hopper family came to the Cynon Valley in the 1820s when he was appointed Farm Bailiff by Richard Fothergill the ironmaster.
Stacey was the youngest of the four children of Christopher John Hopper and his wife Mary, née Davies, (of Nevern, Pembrokeshire) and was brought up in 125 Brook St and then 29 Hill St, Aberaman. He attended Blaengwawr Council School until he transferred to the County School in Trecynon in 1921. He left school in 1926 having gained his School Certificate with Matriculation Equivalent. He had ambitions in the field of cartography but instead he became a policeman in the Southampton area. However he eventually found his way to Art School and later began work as a teacher of Art in West London at Northolt, Greenford and Hanwell where he taught at Cuckoo Senior Boys School.
It was during this period that he met his future wife who was a primary school teacher. She was Iris Gwenllian Jones of Pembrey, known to all as Gwen. The two met at a concert that was being staged by the local teachers and in which Gwen was playing a Hungarian violinist! They were married in December 1935 and their first, of three children, arrived in 1937. During the early years of the war, Stacey’s school was evacuated from London and, as luck would have it, his school was allocated to South Wales to the village of Tylorstown, eight miles distant from Aberdare in the valley of the Rhondda Fach. He and Gwen chose to live in Tan-y-bryn St, Aberdare and this had the consequence of Stacey having to commute daily across the mountain to the Rhondda on the Red & White bus. However, in 1941 Stacey received his call-up papers to the army, but due to an injury sustained whilst a policeman, he escaped front line duties. Nevertheless the following four years were hardly uneventful, as well as proving to be an opportunity to develop his artistic skills and to place his works before the eyes of countless numbers across the world.
In August 1941 his army career began in the Royal Corps of Signals when he was initially posted to Prestatyn. In November 1942 he was sent to Algeria to serve in the B.N.A.F. His arrival was not without incident as his ship was torpedoed just before the journey ended. His artistic skills were employed by the army in the production of signs and notices, and it was this work and his sense of humour that brought him to the attention of Major-General (later Sir) Ernest Cowell, Director of Medical Services for the Allied Forces in North Africa during 1942-1944, who asked him to promote through his illustrations the work of the Army Medical Department. In Algeria there was a serious risk from malaria, and Stacey produced several notices that highlighted the danger of the mosquito, and of the necessity for administration of the chosen medicine, at that time Atebrin. In November 1943, Stacey was promoted from Corporal to Second Lieutenant in the Regular Army, Emergency Commission, on the recommendation of Ernest Cowell. By this time he was also a staff artist on the British Army newspaper, “Union Jack”.
On 12 May 1944 he was commissioned as Lieutenant in active service with the Intelligence Corps, at which time he was transferred to Naples. During this next stage in his army career he took part in the invasion of mainland Italy. Here he chronicled, in his sketch pad, the scenes in the field hospitals as casualties were brought by air from the Anzio campaign in Lazio to Capodichino airport near Naples. He also produced materials which publicised the dangers of typhus, dysentery, diarrhoea, sexually transmitted diseases as well as hygiene precautions necessary in food preparation.
In March 1946 he was released from military duty and returned to his old school in Hanwell where he restarted his teaching career. During this period he also produced artwork that appeared in various newspapers and magazines. For the Musical Express he produced caricatures of musicians, and for West End theatres of comedians, actors and variety artists. He also was a member of the London Sketch Club at this time.
In the early 1960s Stacey, his wife and youngest son moved to Lopen, near Crewkerne in Somerset. He continued to teach Art but also found time to build a second house by converting a barn in the garden of the original family house. Gwen participated in amateur operatics & dramatics and was a founder member of the Crewkerne Operatic Society. She was responsible for some of the productions in the village hall at nearby Merriott; Stacey was also involved and produced several striking backdrops for the stage sets.
Gwen died in 1984 at the age of 77, and Stacey spent the following twelve years in the Somerset house. He died in Bristol on 6 February 1996, aged 86.
There is a substantial body of Stacey’s work that can be seen in various galleries and museums, but there is still a large number that remain in storage; a few examples can also be seen in a few Somerset pubs and village halls. The following institutions hold over one hundred examples of his work:
A Few Examples From The Huge Collection of Stacey Hopper’s Work
Many thanks to Stacey’s daughter Sandra Hopper, and to Stacey’s
Haydn Williams, for providing invaluable information for this account.
The wartime sketches are reproduced with permission of The Wellcome Library
to whom we express our grateful thanks.