‘Art has been and still is my life’: 93-year-old commissioned to create huge artwork using drawings from sketchbook

24 May 2024 Claudia Lee for South London Press

A 93-year-old who has spent her life teaching and creating art has covered the panels outside her former home with drawings from her old sketchbooks as part of a special commission.

Jenny Adams, who is a resident of Hopton’s Almshouse in Hopton Street, Southwark, was set the task to make a site-specific artwork for the hoardings in Blackfriars Road and Nicholson Street, as part of Tenderground and Southwark Charities art programme.

Ms Adams’ large-scale drawings are enlarged from several sketchbooks which documented her daily life living in Edward Edwards House, the almshouse behind these hoardings. 

Jenny Adams’ hoarding installation in Blackfriars Road (Picture: Tenderground/Southwark Charities)

She said: “My first experience with art was a jumble of nothingness. 

“Then the colours hit me in my eyes, now I get the joy of smelling, touching and tasting, through art.

“Everything is a beauty. Art has been and still is my life.”

Southwark Charities’ almshouses offer self sufficient, low-cost community housing for elderly people in the borough. Tenderground is a commissioning programme for the almshouses of Southwark Charities.

The works, designed in collaboration with graphic designer Charlie Noon, record the often overlooked details of Ms Adams’ daily life – plants, the stages of decaying fruit, roadworks happening outside her window or flowers picked in the garden and left on her windowsill by a neighbour.

Ms Adams was born in Nairobi, Kenya in 1932. She attended Central Art School in Holborn from 1950 until 1954, and worked as a commercial artist, illustrator and designer for John Lewis.

Jenny Adams with members of Tenderground, Southwark Charities and developers JTRE London (Picture: Tenderground/Southwark Charities)

Now in her early 90s, Ms Adams continues to sketch every day. 

As well as celebrating its residents, Ms Adams’ work marks the next phase of the Edward Edwards House, which is currently under development by Southwark Charities in partnership with developers JTRE London, to create a new almshouse and office building.

This hoarding installation is the first public commission from Tenderground, directed by Laura Wilson and Clare Cumberlidge.

Ms Wilson said: “We are thrilled to be working with artists and the residents of the almshouses to deliver a programme of world class art to Southwark.

“We are lucky to have an artist as inspirational as Jenny Adams amongst the residents and are proud to launch the programme with her work.”

Southwark Charities has occupied the site in Blackfriars Road since 1752. For more than 250 years it has been home to Edward Edwards House, an almshouse for the people of Southwark. 

Caroline Croft, Southwark Charities Chairwoman of Trustees, said: “I am delighted that our charity has embarked upon an art strategy that is so ambitious and creative. 

Tenderground is already showing that high-quality art can make a positive difference to the lives of our beneficiaries and the wider community. I’m so excited by the programme and what is to come.”

[Pictured top: Jenny Adams and The commission marks the next phase of Edward Edwards House, which is currently under redevelopment (Picture: Tenderground/Southwark Charities)]