Richard Valentine Williams
William Easson Tocher (1911 - 1968):
Tocher was born in Scotland but relocated to Belfast with his family sometime before 1930. While in Belfast he studied with his friend William Scott at the Belfast School of Art from around 1929-31. Tocher’s training at the Belfast School of Art was marked by a number of successes, as he was the recipient of seven awards for sculpture, drawing and painting awarded by the Irish National Art Competition in Dublin 1931-32, and the education Committee Minutes of the Belfast School of Art state that he was awarded first prize in the Sorella Art Local Exhibition in 1930.
During the 1930s Tocher and William Scott painted together during trips to the Fermanagh countryside. On completion of his studies in Belfast Tocher and Scott went to study sculpture at the Royal Academy Schools in London, where Tocher was awarded a silver medal and a £30 prize for ‘Set of Three Models of Figure from life’. Tocher was also awarded the Landseer scholarship by the Royal Academy for two years in 1932, whilst he engaged in architectural work alongside his studies in London. Moreover Tocher was selected to attend the British School in Rome in 1938, receiving a scholarship, the Prix-de-Rome, awarded to him in 1937, worth '£250 per annum, tenable for two years'. Tocher also had a number of sculptures accepted for exhibition by the Royal Academy while he was in London. The annual exhibitions in 1934, 1935 and 1936 each included one sculpture by Tocher, and two bronze works, Sophie and Diana were included in the 1938 exhibition.
It is presumed that Tocher left Italy and returned to London in 1939 following the outbreak of war, but the exact date is unknown. Likewise it is not known when Tocher returned to Northern Ireland, where he lived with his family. It is possible that Tocher came to Belfast as early as 1941 to support his parents, as his elder brother James Easson Tocher, who was working with the Royal Hong Kong Volunteer Corps, was captured and held as a prisoner of war in Japan from 1941 until 1945. Nevertheless Tocher was in Northern Ireland for at least part of the Second World War and exhibited with the Ulster Arts Club in 1940s. According to records of the Belfast School of Art, Tocher was working as a part-time teacher in 1942 and was appointed to the position of Assistant Master in June of that year. In 1943 Tocher exhibited four works at the Ulster Arts Club’s annual exhibition, including the sculpture Air Raid Warden, inspired by air wardens Tocher had seen either in Belfast, or in London. Tocher was the first artist in Northern Ireland to exhibit a sculpture that dealt explicitly with themes of the Second World War.
By 1944 Tocher was exhibiting work on more classical themes, including terracotta studies of Selma and The Birth of Venus, in addition to a bust of Lord Basil. He was also a member of the council of the Ulster Art’s Club in 1945. Following the Second World War Tocher returned to England and he took up a teaching position as Head of the School of Modelling and Sculpture at Manchester School of Art from 1946-66. Tocher then moved to the Black Isle, Scotland around 1966, where he died in 1968.
Irish Times, 13 June,1931 and 7 July 1932; Northern Whig and Belfast Post, 17 February 1938; Education Committee Minutes, Belfast School of Art archive 1930-59, University of Ulster.
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