Creative headteacher lives on in his artwork

Robert Mercer, artist and former headteacher of Meadowside Junior School, Burton Latimer, who died aged 79 last month
Robert Mercer, artist and former headteacher of Meadowside Junior School, Burton Latimer, who died aged 79 last month

A long-serving headteacher who smuggled banned literature behind the Iron Curtain during his summer holidays lives on in the huge body of artwork he left behind.

Many people will have studied under Robert Mercer, who died aged 79 on April 10, during his 21 years as headteacher of the then Meadowside Junior School in Burton Latimer or in the art classes he taught at the school and Kettering Technical College.

But perhaps even more will have enjoyed the oil paintings of the county’s landscapes he showed in solo exhibitions at the Alfred East Art Gallery, Kettering, or in the books of fellow headteacher Ian Addis, which he illustrated.

Mr Mercer’s son Stephen, 49, said: “Many people will have on their walls his pictures of churches and landscapes.”

Before becoming a teacher Mr Mercer, of Paradise Lane, Kettering, who was born in Lancashire, worked as a Lake District tour guide in his 20s and he continued rambling throughout his life.

School holidays allowed Mr Mercer to continue his passion. As a highly literate person, he would quote poetry over dinner to his family, and would sneak copies of George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984 to people in Eastern European countries when leading tours there in the 1970s and 80s.

Stephen said: “It seemed to me he felt in some small way he was contributing to the spread of knowledge in an environment that was very restricted.”

Mr Mercer, who was also a keen cyclist and sportsman, won a major art prize in Manchester in the early 1970s and supported pupils in their study of art after taking the headship at Meadowside.

Stephen said: “I’d like to think he will be remembered for the creativity and sense of fun he brought to the school and how supportive he was of the kids.”

But it was after retiring aged 61 that Mr Mercer could really focus on art and he produced hundreds of increasingly abstract paintings, which were shown in London as well as the Kettering gallery, as well as continue his art classes.

Mr Mercer is survived by wife Stephanie, son Stephen, daughter Alison and four grandchildren.