by Barbara Sherf
This week has been a whirlwind for Alex Forbes, longtime illustrator, watercolorist and art teacher who on Monday became a U.S. citizen and then worked much of the rest of the week to install 30 works from his 45-year-career as a working artist on the walls of The Center on the Hill (CoH) Gallery. In between, he managed to teach art classes there.
Forbes’ watercolors run the gamut from scenes of the Wissahickon Valley and Morris Arboretum to full-color maps of Swarthmore College and Widener University to a Christmas card collection depicting the many cats he and his wife, Margot, have had as pets over the 39 years they have been together.
Margot was born in Chestnut Hill and was a student at Springside School, where her recently deceased mother, Eleanore, a retired typing teacher and secretary at Springside, worked for decades. Alex met Margot in 1978 while traveling through Europe during her budding singing career. Margot’s father, Paul Kurtz, who was a vice president at Fidelity Bank, died in 2010.
“Margot went to Scotland to collect folk music. We met in a local pub. She was on stage singing,” said Forbes, who was born in Scotland and moved to London when British Airways transferred his father, an aircraft engineer with the Royal Air Force. The couple have been married for 37 years, live in Oreland and have two grown children, Andrew, a biology professor at the University of Iowa, and Eleanor, a lawyer working for UCLA in Los Angeles
Both children were born in England but came here in 1992 and went to Upper Dublin schools. Back in England, a four-year college education was free, but Forbes had to make a decision as to whether to go to school for academics or a trade. He chose art and first worked freelance at the BBC, then for 20 years as a senior graphic designer for Thames Television.
“Attendees to the show will see some of the work I did in television for children’s, sports, drama and comedy programs,” said Forbes as one of the three resident cats climbed into his lap. Once in America, he worked for a company in Huntingdon Valley that represents artists and image-makers, where he did graphics for annual reports and illustrations for corporate entities.
He also worked on the popular British comedy, The Benny Hill Show, using graphics and funny props to add to the comedic themes. Forbes still has some of those props, including several wigs and a Scottish hat with fake hair coming out of it. He wears those hairpieces with a red clown nose to visit with his three grandchildren once a week via Skype.
Forbes taught for five years at the Hussian College School of Art, a private vocational school for graphic design and commercial illustration located near Independence Hall, before retiring two years ago at the age of 65. For the past 26 years he has also taught art classes at four different locations for the Chestnut Hill Senior Center before it transitioned to the Center for Enrichment. With the Center closing, he has moved his classes to CoH. His works can also be seen at the Chestnut Hill Gallery. He is thrilled with his classes. “Some of this artwork the seniors are producing is pretty amazing,” he insisted. “They all have their own style, and I’m just teaching the basics. One student has been enrolled for 12 years now. You can learn to draw, but certainly you must also have talent to make a living as an artist. This is really my way of giving back.”
As for his desire to become a citizen, Forbes said he likes politics. “I couldn’t vote and couldn’t argue with others. I had been thinking of doing this for a long time. It’s taken me 14 months to get to this point, and you feel like you want to have a vote and make your voice heard.”
CoH is located in the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill at 8855 Germantown Ave., next to Chestnut Hill Hospital. The exhibit opens Dec. 1 and runs until the end of the year. Gallery Hours are from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Flourtown resident Barbara Sherf tells the stories of business owners, non-profits and individuals through her website at www.CommunicationsPro.com. She can be reached at CaptureLifeStories@gmail.com.