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Kibworth commemorates John Theodore Kenney (Thomas the Tank Engine artist)

A commemorative plaque is to be unveiled to celebrate the work of John Theodore Kenney, the artist who helped make Thomas the Tank Engine a worldwide and much-loved brand.

The plaque will be installed outside the Hunny Hive Nursery, formerly the Kibworth Health Centre, in Smeeton Road.  John and Peggy Kenney lived in Victoria House which stood nearby until it was demolished to make way for a road straightening scheme in the 1960s.

The event is part of Leicestershire County Council’s Green Plaque Scheme, and everyone is welcome to attend at 2pm on Thursday 13 June.

John Kenney studied at the Leicester College of Art and after graduating joined J.E.Slater, the firm of commercial artists, in Kibworth. He was called up during the Second World War and created a visual record of what he witnessed during the Normandy landings and later as his regiment crossed Europe.

Returning to Kibworth, he went back to Slaters but resigned after a few years to concentrate on painting. John and Peggy lived their retirement years in a cottage in Westerby Lane, Smeeton Westerby.

Kenney was the second artist to illustrate Thomas the Tank Engine, following in the footsteps of Clarence Dalby, who was also a graduate of the Leicester College of Art and is best known for creating the polar bear logo used by Fox’s Glacier Mints. Coincidentally, the Fox family also lived in Kibworth, at The Knoll in Fleckney Road.

He would take his sketch pad to the railway station in Kibworth and draw from real life. His first Thomas book was The Eight Famous Engines. He introduced new characters including Donald and Douglas (the Scottish Twins), Daisy, Diesel and Duncan. Kenney’s final images were for Gallant Old Engine in 1962. He also illustrated 31 books for Ladybird Books including Tootles the Taxi and the early Robin Hood series, The Ambush and The Silver Arrow.

Although most famous for his Thomas and Ladybird illustrations, Kenney was also a fine landscape artist. His paintings of the south Leicestershire countryside, and particularly of the hunting horses which are still part of that landscape.

Ill-health forced him to stand down as the Revd Wilbert Awdry’s key artist. His eyesight began to fail. He died in 1972 at the age of 61.

The unveiling follows a successful weekend of events at Kibworth Community Library last year which raised local people’s awareness of John Kenney’s work

Looking back at Victoria Street

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Stephen Butt
Issue 412
May 2019


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