Tom Phillips' portrait
Fran White

Fran White

My relationship with my mother and how this has influenced my art

“To describe my mother would be to write about a hurricane in its perfect power. Or the climbing, falling colours of a rainbow.”

Maya Angelou

As humans, we have always reflected on the relationship between mother and child. In my experience this relationship can be complex and complicated, bound as it is in the memories of significant moments, of mundanity and every day, of decisions made (or not made), that sometimes our adult brains cannot fathom or fully remember.

My relationship with my mother Elisabeth Ann, or Bub to her friends, has been one of the most significant of my life and underpins my art life and the outcomes I present. In so many nuances, the trips and turns reflect the decisions she made for me and those I later made for myself as a result. Sometimes known and recognised, sometimes not, but as all art tends to be autobiographical, I’m sure closer inspection would readily reveal the connection.

Fran White with her mother

My earliest memory of my mother is snuggling up to her incredibly soft cuffs on her (fur?) winter coat when travelling in the car. Also waiting anxiously on the train with my three siblings when she got off at a station to ‘buy a paper’.

My mother’s parents were Canadian and moved to England in the 1920s where their three children were born. During the 2nd World War my grandmother became very ill and, aged 44, died of diabetes. Shortly after the family had also lost their 21-year-old son Paddy, who fought for England even though he was Canadian.

My mother and my stepfather, Denis, shared an interest in all types of art, visiting art galleries here and abroad. Denis collected watercolours by Cotman. He commissioned Tom Phillips to paint a portrait of my mother. Significantly this depicts her with an ancient symbolic racecourse in the background.

Tom Phillips' portrait

As well as art, Denis and my mother shared a passion for horse racing which led to them starting their own Stud in Norfolk in the 1970s, where they bred their own and others’ horses. This was an interest that she still shares with her sister, who also owns racehorses. Their father, Major Holt, may have inspired this interest as he had huge success with his horses.

As a consequence of her passion for art, my mother’s house is full of paintings, many of which reflect her status as an owner and breeder of racehorses.

Fran White's mother's house
Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Fran. Acrylic & mixed media on unbleached linen

Another significant memory of my mother is of her wearing an orange dress & white tights to host a dinner party at home when I was on half-term break from boarding school – my parents electric blanket caught fire that night – she was rather embarrassed to meet the firemen in her trendy get up.

My mother has been an amazing role model, as a mother, wife, running a ladies clothes shop, owning and working in a wine bar and working with the Red Cross, as her mother had done, all alongside running Wretham Stud. She is very good company. She is positive, sociable and has, recently, had terrific success with her homebred racehorses, which makes for an even more exciting visit, especially when we go to the racetrack and watch her horse win.

Fran White with her mother
At the horse races

A few years ago, we made a memorable visit to see her elder sister in the Isle of Man together. Our flight was diverted and then cancelled, and we ended up being put up in a hotel in Edinburgh. In the middle of the night the Fire Alarm went off – this became quite an event as both of us wear hearing aids and to begin with, I was unclear as to what was happening. We had to walk down four flights of stairs in our nighties & shelter under space blankets – during all of this, there was not a single word of complaint from her.

She has always been incredibly encouraging, giving me confidence and support in my life and travels, especially when I went to college in my 40s when my children were 10 & 12. She also bought several of my paintings when she visited the JFJ exhibition in Ditchling, alongside purchasing a watercolour from my website.

Fran White with her mother

She is a hard act to follow, but, as I reflect on my own journey, I appreciate myself and what I have achieved in my own life and I also appreciate our relationship very much, which has deepened over the years and mutual respect has developed, especially over the past 18 months of the pandemic.

I know she thinks I am ‘very brave’ in my dedication to my painting, and she enjoys reading these blogs, so I hope she will enjoy this one dedicated to her.

Fran's mother reading
Fran’s mother reading

Recently we discussed my sketches of ancient Holly trees made while staying with her. This project was inspired by similarly ancient trees I started sketching at home, and I look forward very much to many more discussions and adventures with her.

Fran White with her mother

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