Tributes to Northampton's much-loved, eccentric artist Elke Pollard

Elke at home in East Park Parade
Elke at home in East Park Parade

Elke Pollard, who worked with many of Northampton's best-known artists, has died.

Mrs Pollard came to the UK as a child from Germany, and loved to tell people how she was born during the Dambusters raids.

Elke at home with one of her many subjects

Elke at home with one of her many subjects

That kinetic energy must somehow have transferred itself to her huge, flamboyant personality that delighted the vast majority of people she came into contact with.

She worked with her late husband, the respected sculptor Malcolm Pollard, Henry Bird, and the architect Will Alsop.

But she will be remembered just as much for her incomparable company.

Former Northampton Borough Council leader John Dickie, a close friend, said: "Elke was an engaging companion, laughter and optimism embraced her.

"Much of her life she had engaged in dress design and fashion, and it showed. Going out with Elke Pollard was a bit like travelling with our own Frieda Kahlo, she was interested in everything and everybody.

"She always had a sketchpad ready.

"We went with her to Paris and once during a meal she got out her sketchpad and immediately the waiters gathered around and watched her create."

Mrs Pollard was born in Germany and spent her early childhood in Berlin.

She told the Chronicle & Echo in 2009 how she recalled passing into the east of the divided city through Checkpoint Charlie and being struck by the great contrast between the grandeur of the surroundings and the suffering of its inhabitants: "People were starving, it was horrible and derelict and yet there was this avenue of big Russian sculptures. It was very scary and very moving."

After the war, aged about three, she lived for a time as a refugee in the German part of the famous wine-producing region of Alsace.

Her father, who was a sergeant in the British Army, later brought the family to the UK and she eventually settled in Northampton.

Here she met the love of her life, Malcolm Pollard, at Northampton School of Art and the couple went on to have two sons. Together, they made their home overlooking The Racecourse a true artistic hub of the town.

She also made her lasting mark in several prominent places in Northampton. Her murals include a restored listed building in The Racecourse Pavilion. And with Malcolm, she designed and executed the decorated panelled ceiling for extension to the Mayor’s Parlour, at the Guildhall.

Most prolifically a portrait painter - although she was talented in numerous genres - her peers agreed Mrs Pollard's greatest skill was to capture a surprising wistfulness in her subjects, more often than not while sitting for in her East Park Parade home. A famous painting of Northampton graphic novelist Alan Moore, for example, transforms his fierce glower into a bloodhound-like inner sadness.

Mr Dickie said his friend was particularly good with younger subjects.

He said: "When she painted young people she always managed to capture the vivacity and exuberance of youth, whether painting a young person on the cusp of adulthood with all the promise and hope for the future or portraits of her adorable grandchildren with their whole lives ahead of them."

Renowned as 'great copy' by the local media, she was interviewed several times by Chron reporters down the years yet details such as her exact age continually eluded her questioners.

But she often left the journalist with a lively impression of her artistic, eccentric sensibility.

What made her happy: “Even if I have no food, if I have a bloom in the house I’m happy. "

What was the last movie she saw: "I can’t remember... my life is like a movie."

Her salary: "Never had one."

Who would you take to a desert island: "Discretion darling, discretion."

Her favourite chat-up line: "Would you pose for me in the nude?"

And asked once to write her own epitaph for a profile interview, she responded: "She was an exuberant artist who loved life."

Many will agree she more than fulfilled her own description.

Mrs Pollard leaves two sons, William and George, a granddaughter, Kitty, and grandson Beau.