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Dr Joan Heggie  ‘From Teesside Steel to rural Yorkshire, the life & art of Viva Talbot’

This talk was inspired by a series of exquisite wood block prints illustrating the production process for steel, which are in the archives of Teesside University. These were signed Viva Talbot but further information about this artist was not available, although obviously of a high standard, a search of the list of known contemporary artists drew a blank. The challenge of solving this conundrum was taken up by Dr Joan Heggie, who has been a Research Fellow at Teesside University since 2002 researching the history of Iron & Steel making in Teesside. This detective story was profusely illustrated with slides.

The chance discovery of these prints in 2006 generated a new research interest for their finder, Dr Heggie, it was a mystery why and how she had gained such privileged access to the steelworks. Since then Dr Heggie has spent every spare minute piecing together the story of Viva Talbot, her life and her art. Viva was the daughter of Benjamin Talbot (1864-1947), inventor of the Talbot tilting furnace which transformed the Open Hearth method of producing steel. Benjamin Talbot, originally from Shropshire, came to Teesside at the beginning of the 20th Century, having previously spent a decade working for iron companies in America, Talbot brought new ideas back to England & became involved with two companies in particular – Cargo Fleet Iron Company (Middlesbrough) and the South Durham Steel & Iron Company (Stockton) - both of which are possible locations for the steelmaking images.

In 1925, he became Managing Director of both companies. Her diaries when she was young revealed the life of an Edwardian family, she was educated first by a governess & then at Bentley Priory School for Girls. Her artistic talents also included singing & piano playing to a high standard. Viva Talbot married Thomas Nussey in 1941 and within a few years she became Lady Nussey when Thomas inherited a baronetcy from his father. Viva rode, sidesaddle, with the Hurworth hunt until she was 66. Dr Heggie has rediscovered Viva’s many & diverse talents & brought her extraordinary personality back to life