Curious coincidence as man wins Bob Olley painting which resembles his South Shields shipyard worker grandfather

A man whose father and grandfather worked in a South Shields shipyard has won a piece of ship-building history – which bears an uncanny resemblance to his ancestor.
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South Shields Museum and Art Gallery has been telling the story of shipbuilding and ship repair in South Tyneside with its Pushing the Boat Out exhibition.

To mark the end of South Shields Museum’s popular exhibition, Bob Olley, kindly donated an original oil painting named ‘Fag Break’ to the museum for a fundraising raffle.

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Out of hundreds of raffle entries, Jarrow-born Graham Whitehead’s name was drawn.

The exhibition runs until November 12.The exhibition runs until November 12.
The exhibition runs until November 12.

Winning the raffle was particularly special to Mr. Whitehead as maritime heritage is deeply rooted through his family. Both Graham’s father and grandfather worked at John Readhead & Sons on the River Tyne in South Shields.

It was a location where Bob Olley took much inspiration from when creating his series of paintings for Pushing The Boat Out.

The painting which was raffled, depicts a shipyard worker lighting his tab with a red-hot rivet. Mr Whitehead’s grandfather, John Short, worked as a welder at Shields’ Readhead shipyard.

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He was pictured in the 1965 book ‘Readheads 1865-1965’ lighting a cigarette on a welding torch, reflecting an uncanny resemblance to the man portrayed in Bob’s painting ‘Fag Break’.

'Fag Break' by Bob Olley.'Fag Break' by Bob Olley.
'Fag Break' by Bob Olley.

Mr Whitehead said: “To win this picture seems like fate. I’m a big fan of Bob’s work and I have followed his life and art over the years.

"While the shipyards are gone, the family memories survive through artworks and photographs of my late father and grandfather.”

Graham Whitehead, who has followed the life and work of Mr Olley, is also the proud owner of an original Brick from Bob’s iconic 1979 painting ‘Westoe Netty’.

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Mr Whitehead said: “I am absolutely over the moon to have won such a special piece of artwork, I’ll be hanging it right next to my Westoe Netty brick.”

John Short lighting a cigarette with welding torch.John Short lighting a cigarette with welding torch.
John Short lighting a cigarette with welding torch.

In total £1,985 was raised through raffle ticket sales, all proceeds will go to support South Shields Museum.

The museum said Mr Olley is well-known for his North East advocacy and feels passionately about supporting his local community, especially vital communal hubs like South Shields Museum, which is why he agreed to raffle off one of his iconic paintings.

The artist, a former miner, is traditionally more associated with works relating to the area’s collieries, but turned his hand to scenes from the area’s other large employer of its industrial past, the ship yards.

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The Pushing The Boat Out exhibition will be on display until November 12, 2022. South Shields Museum & Art Gallery holds extensive collections of local art portraying the area by local artists.

Graham Whitehead and Bob OlleyGraham Whitehead and Bob Olley
Graham Whitehead and Bob Olley

The art collection dates from 1873 when the former Mechanics Institute building reopened as South Shields' first free public library.

The museum today occupies the whole of the former library building and the fine art collection consists of approximately 500 items including works by nationally recognised artists such as Charles Napier Hemy ('The Last Boat In'), Thomas Sidney Cooper, ('The Approaching Storm') and Harold Harvey ('Blackberrying').

For full details of opening times, events, and facilities available, please visit the website