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Ken Sprague – People’s Artist

By Carl Dutton

Ken Sprague was a people person with a vision of fairness and equality that is hard to find in a world that values the self more than the collective.

I was lucky enough to have Ken as a mentor during my training as a psychodrama psychotherapist at his home and training centre Holwell in North Devon.

He was a true character in his actions, words, and his look. He sported a most impressive moustache that he grew as a result of his connections with Yugoslavia during the Second World War, and subsequent returns following the end of conflict.

I knew Ken as a therapist and artist and he showed me how the use of art, be it drama, art, music, or storytelling can have a profound effect upon the individual, but also if the conditions are right, the society in which that person finds themselves.

He was a real all-rounder or ‘jack of all trades’ in that he was able, not always easily and definitely with a struggle, to expand himself in different directions, be it as a political cartoonist, psychotherapist, story teller, circus performer, artist, and community activist. I could go on with the list of the roles he held. This does not mean he did them half heartedly or with little regard, but that at his core was the need to express the imbalances in life, the little man/woman against the uncaring and often brutal system.

In his drawings and paintings he could show in graphic detail the real life experiences of the unheard, un-noticed, and often marginalised person much more than words could ever do. He would always take his sketchbook wherever he found himself and often this would elicit an interaction either from the subject of the sketch or from those around. This for me was how I remember him - always engaged with what was around him and never afraid to put his view across, but also to listen to the other side.

He spent time in Iraq as what would be termed a war artist, depicting the senseless killing of young men. He was part of the group of trade unionists who invited and got Yuri Gagarin to visit the UK (he was a foundry worker before becoming a spaceman). He also interviewed Ernest Hemingway.

Ken died last year, and I feel his legacy may be the connections we can make with his art work and the need for the artist, therapist, politician, and every man, woman, and child to not get stuck in one role or allow themselves to be cast in one. Instead they should try, with support, encouragement, and the right growing ground, to develop other roles that can help them break free from roles that can be restrictive and ultimately unproductive.

I for one feel we have lost a great visionary who was able through his art and actions, to speak for the little man, and gave them the chance to dream again and again for a life that is fair, just, and valued.

In honour of Ken a Fund has been set up. It is the International Political Cartoon Competition with a closing date of 1 June 2006.

For further information either go to or email

Carl is Project Therapist for Liverpool Haven for Refugee and Asylum Seeking Children and works within six Liverpool schools providing assessment and therapy for refugee children.
He presently co-ordinates psychodrama in the North West with a number of colleagues, and is holding the British Psychodrama Association Conference in Liverpool in 2008.

Copies of the book “Ken Sprague - People’s Artist” by John Green can be ordered via News from Nowhere Bookshop in Bold Street.

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