When Sussex landscape painter Grant Dejonge’s studio went up in smoke the people of Plumpton rallied round and paid into an online GoFundMe appeal to help him get back on his feet.
Hundreds of poundsworth of paintings were lost in the blaze which completely destroyed the makeshift workshop Grant had built himself from reclaimed timber in the back garden of the family home.
Fire crews rushed to the scene, off the Lewes road on the outskirts of Plumpton village, when Grant’s 14-year-old son Alex spotted smoke and flames engulfing the studio shack and raised the alarm.
Grant, aged 50, managed to rescue some completed works but the fire, caused by an electrical fault, took hold and destroyed his supply of oils, brushes and other vital materials including a collection of sketchbooks and several valuable art works.
The artist had to take cover and watch helplessly as aerosol cans and bottles of white spirit went off like hand grenades and incendiary bombs – blowing the studio doors off – before the fire brigade arrived.
A local financial adviser, Charlotte Sykes Haddow, from the nearby village of Chailey, launched the online appeal. Word of the blaze quickly spread. Soon friends, neighbours and many of Grant’s clients had raised over a thousand pounds to help him replenish his stocks.
The most generous single contributor to aiding the artist’s recovery was the amateur Plumpton Pantomime Society which prides itself on the professionalism of its unique annual productions.
As a way of paying back everyone who helped him after the fire, Grant painted all the desert scenery, sandy streets, adobe brick buildings and Arabian Night style backdrops for this year’s performance of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.
“This is a wonderful community effort,” said Grant of the society’s pantomime. The cast includes would-be stars among local school pupils and more experienced, amateur dramatics aficionados, all with connections to the village. Many of the behind-the-scenes staff work in the media, in theatre or television and take their roles very seriously.
“I have been only too happy to repay the faith the people of Plumpton have shown in me,” added the artist, who worked long into the early hours after rehearsals to complete the stage sets, ensuring the show could go on in time.
Delighted with the result, the show’s director and secretary of the pantomime society, Duncan Taylor-Jones, said: “We’re very lucky to have someone of Grant’s talent who’s willing to pitch in and provide his painting expertise free of charge.”
Mr Taylor-Jones, himself a graphic designer by trade – who runs his own company added: “Grant was kind enough to step in at short notice when we needed someone to paint the scenery for last year’s Pied Piper of Hamelin production so we felt that making a significant contribution was the least we could do to help him recover from the fire calamity.
“We were glad to support someone who has kindly supported us in the past. He’s done a brilliant job too.”
The sold-out show opens on Saturday, January, at the Plumpton village hall and will run throughout the following week. Proceeds will helping worthy causes in the district and boosting the society’s coffers to cover its bills.
Grant Dejonge is renowned across the county for his impressionistic landscape paintings which hang on the walls of many a Sussex country home.
One of his best known public works is a four sided art installation at Plumpton railway station – depicting rural scenes in the area – which is visible to passing motorists and train passengers.
“There’s no doubt I will be providing the same service for the Plumpton pantomime players next year, if they’ll have me,” said Grant.
“Without their help and the generosity of everyone who contributed to the GoFundMe appeal I would have had to put my commissions on hold for much longer after the fire.
“With some help from local building suppliers who donated materials and the assistance of a qualified electrician,” said Grant, “I have managed to rebuild the studio much more quickly than I would otherwise have been able to do. Now it is back up and running better than ever, so thanks again to everyone involved.”