IT was a proud Warringtonian’s final wish.

When ‘secret artist’ Eric Tucker’s health was beginning to fade, he told his younger brother Tony that his regret was never having an exhibition in his hometown.

The former boxer and retired building labourer had been sketching and painting since he was a teenager but his work had rarely been seen outside of his circle of family and friends.

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Eric sadly died in July 2018 – before his wish could be fulfilled – but little did the 86-year-old’s family know his pictures and paintings of Warrington scenes covering almost seven decades would go on to inspire hundreds of people.

Tony said: “A year before his death Eric said it would have been nice to have his work in the Warrington gallery.

“He’d never really shown his work until then. That’s when I started working with him. He had lost a bit of his mobility so I had to bring the artwork from upstairs which was stacked with paintings. You could hardly move.”

Tony knew there would be a lot but he was staggered by what he discovered in Eric’s end-of-terrace house in King George Crescent.

He added: “It was a three-bedroom ex-council house and there was stuff in all the bedrooms, in the loft and later on I discovered stuff in the garden shed.

“Behind the shed was part of an old air raid shelter and there was even more stuff in there which I had a battle to get to.

“That’s when I realised there was a tremendous amount of work there and I was discovering work I’d never seen. I thought it was wonderful. I did contact the gallery but Eric got sicker and sicker.”

Fearing time was of the essence, Tony started painstakingly cataloguing Eric’s 370 paintings and thousands of drawings.

A lot of the artwork didn’t have titles so Tony brought each piece to Eric to try to get some information as well as an approximate year it was painted where possible.

When Eric became really ill, he was in bed downstairs while his devoted brother continued to work with him until his death.

Fast-forward to present day and his wish has finally been fulfilled.

Culture Warrington has been working with the Tucker family since the pop-up exhibition at Eric’s Padgate home in October 2018 captured the nation’s hearts.

And now the exhibition – Eric Tucker: The Unseen Artist – has opened at Warrington Museum and Art Gallery. It even includes a recreation of Eric’s living room that was put together using reference photographs and items borrowed from his family.

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Janice Heyes, honorary curator of the the exhibition, said: “He virtually took over the living room and made it his studio, especially for the last few years of his life.

“So to give the exhibition that atmosphere and make it a bit different we’ve basically transported a bit of his studio into the gallery.”

Visitors can also learn about Eric and his family.

Janice added: “We’re trying to show that he wasn’t just ‘Warrington’s Lowry’. Yes, he painted the northern scene but he had his own art style.

“A lot of the work isn’t just street scenes, he’d sketch the characters in the pub. He painted Warrington from the 1950s onwards.

“Some of the characters keep popping up as they were familiar to him. On the other hand it is a record of an almost vanishing way of life in the north west.

“It won’t be everybody’s Warrington but it will jog a lot of people’s memories and there are a lot of recognisable scenes. It’s a real shame he didn’t get the recognition during his lifetime.”

Tony said: “He was drawing all the time, even in his teens. He used to box at the old Raven club in Church Street.

“He boxed as an amateur and a professional and he did sketchbook after sketchbook of portraits of famous boxers.

“I was sometimes with him when he sketched. It’d just be on scraps of paper at the pub. We’d have a few pints and he’d just work away while we chatted.”

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Before his death, only one piece of Eric’s work had only been exhibited in a gallery setting before this. He was reluctantly persuaded to enter his piece, Ready for Christmas, in the annual Warrington Arts Purchase Prize exhibition staged by Warrington Arts Council at the art gallery in 1995.

The picture won and Eric’s work became part of the town’s collections.

Friends also once persuaded him to hold a pop-up exhibition at the former Warrington pub, Cemetery Hotel, but his work has largely been unseen until now.

Eric’s nephew Joe said: “People ask me what would Eric have made of all this and I say to them he would have been incredibly touched, humbled and amazed.

“But I also say to them I don’t think he would have been entirely surprised. I think he did know there was an audience for his work but he didn’t have any idea how he would connect with them.

“Art is very accessible but the art world is not and I think for Eric – who left school at 14 and hadn’t been to art school – there must have seemed no route at all.”

The family are still considering what to do with Eric’s work when the exhibition closes on February 23.

Janice said: “We did the Ossie Clark exhibition here first and then the V&A came up and saw it and said: ‘We must have it’. So maybe Eric’s work could have a new home at somewhere like the Tate or Manchester Art Gallery. It does happen.”

Tony added: “We’ve set up a trust fund for his work so that we feel we can look after the work.

“I would like him to be seen as a serious artist. I think he is worth that.

“I’m not an art critic but I think his work is valid and it would nice to see him recognised.

“I’m sorry Eric’s not around to see this. That is tough but that’s how it is. I thought he’d go on forever.”