Tribute to Kevin Madeley
As we celebrate the 10 year anniversary of ‘Picture This’ in Rotherham through this photographic journey of exhibitions over the years, we would like to pay tribute to the significant contribution of stalwart Head Teacher and champion of the Arts, Kevin Madeley, who sadly passed away in 2017. Kevin was an inspirational and influential school leader who believed that a rich, creative curriculum should be the entitlement of all pupils.
Kevin began his teaching career in September 1972 in Conisbrough, before moving to Rotherham where went on to teach at Anston Brook Primary, Roughwood Junior School and finally Kiveton Park Meadows Junior School, where he was Head Teacher for almost 25 years from 1985 to his retirement in 2009. Throughout his career, Kevin was a passionate advocate for ensuring the arts were integral within the school curriculum to bring learning to life and enrich the lives and aspirations of all children. He wanted children to experience only the best, and so brought companies such as Opera North, Manchester Camerata, Phoenix dance and the Royal Shakespeare Company into school, along with numerous artists, to work with pupils and staff. His love of sport, enterprise and experiential learning led him to become involved in various research projects with Sheffield Hallam and Oxford Brooks University and eventually to visit 11 Downing Street for an award ceremony.
From the outset, he was keen to work with similar like-minded people on the Picture This! Steering Group to develop a love and appreciation of the visual arts in Rotherham’s children, so that they could experience for themselves the thrill of creativity and the realisation of their own potential for excellence.
“We can lift ourselves out of ignorance, we can find ourselves as creatures of excellence and intelligence and skill. We can be free! We can learn to fly!” (Richard Bach, 2006, 17)
In the summer of 2009, the children felt sad when they heard that Mr Madeley was going to retire, so class 3 decided to write a story about him to present on his final day in the school. Each child in the class contributed an idea, phrase or word and produced the story of “The Gardener”:
Many years ago a young man decided that he would become a gardener. Crouching down he scooped up a handful of the rich, dark soil and crumbled it slowly and thoughtfully between his fingers. He paused for a long moment, sensing the gentle breeze that rippled the long grasses, and as a cheerful smile began to spread across his face, he nodded to himself; his eyes alight with a hundred ideas.
The next day he set to work. At first he hardly knew where to begin but decided to start by clearing some litter that had blown over the fence. When this was done he set about digging the soil, turning it over piece by piece with a steady rhythm. Startled black beetles scuttled for cover alarmed by the sudden daylight in the furrowed wake. And here and there glistening pink worms, disturbed from their damp slumber, wriggled irritably back underneath their earthy blanket. When the sun eventually began to sink below the horizon, he stopped and surveyed the day’s work with satisfaction.
“It won’t be easy... and it may take a while,” he confided to a blackbird that had come to investigate a newly turned clod of earth, “but it will be a wonderful garden!”
Days became weeks and weeks became months and the gardener dug and raked and hoed. He planted and sowed, watered, fed, pruned and trimmed... and then... started over again. Other people came to help because it was an enormous job, but they all wanted to see the wonderful garden. Already the hard work was paying off: hundreds of tender green shoots peeped out between the soil; new plants had taken root and the leaves on saplings and bushes shone a dazzling green.
“Stay away from my seedlings!” he warned a grey snail lazing patiently on nearby rock. The garden had really started to grow.
Months turned into years and sure enough the plot of land became a magnificent garden; beds and borders spilled over with flowers of every colour and kind, tall blue delphiniums, roses, lupins, daisies and forget-me-nots. A fountain swished and sparkled in the centre of a pond that flashed orange with fish. Around the garden’s perimeter a thousand dappled greens rippled like an ocean. Bushes and trees of every size and shape jostled good-naturedly: some with blossom like dollops of dripping strawberry ice-cream; others with leaves as broad as hands, and in their cool shade, ivy and moss slowly crept. In the middle of a lawn a huge willow tree hushed and shushed in the wind. Everyone agreed that the garden was truly a lovely place.
One day a man in a dark suit came with a measuring stick with lines, numbers and letters going up the side.
One by one he held the measuring stick up to each plant, and wrote in his book. Sometimes the man would raise his eyebrows and nod approvingly, other times he would shake his head slowly and frown. The garden held its breath.
“Some plants are not tall enough! All plants should come up to this mark,” he said indicating towards a black line on the stick.
“But what about their fine colours and different shapes, their lovely perfume and the music they make as they whisper and dance in the wind?” asked the gardener. But the man hadn’t really noticed and didn’t think it was that important.
“Make them taller,” he insisted darkly, pointing to the black line on the stick. The garden shuddered.
When the man had gone, everything was quiet for a while and then the gardener said, “Our garden needs plants of every colour, shape and size, and every pattern and perfume.” And he continued to dig, rake, hoe, water, feed, prune, trim, plant and sow.
In the kaleidoscope of time the garden grew and blossomed and changed with each season. Every year the garden looked and sounded different: a living masterpiece.
One day the gardener announced that it was time for him to go. “But why?” asked everyone stunned. “Well because...there’s a book I need to read, a mountain I need to climb, a boat to sail, a picture to paint... a world outside the garden to see and hear and taste and explore,” he said.
Before he left, he sprinkled something into the watering can and handed it to the people who stayed. He whispered something and they nodded and smiled. The garden rustled, waved and beamed with colour, and then a sudden breeze scooped up handfuls of feathery seeds. As the gardener walked down the lane towards the sunrise, the air around him was suddenly full of thousands of seeds, dancing, spinning and flying away over the horizon and far out of sight.