Fairfax School 60th anniversary marked with portrait of first headteacher

The Fairfax School 60th anniversary celebrations are to get a colourful addition – thanks to a highly-regarded Sutton Coldfield artist, who is creating a new portrait of the headteacher who founded it six decades ago.

Polish-born Izabela ‘Venuso’ Okonska, who works out of a studio in Wylde Green, arrived in the UK in 2011 and has since built a reputation as one of the region’s most gifted portrait artists – with clients including Sutton MP Andrew Mitchell.

Now she is to use her talents to paint a new portrait of Gordon Philpott, the inspirational headteacher who founded Fairfax School in 1959. The finished painting will be unveiled by Mr Philpott’s grandson, Neil, who is chair of school’s current Board of Governors, at a grand reunion on Friday, September 27 for the Fairfax School 60th anniversary this year.

“I am really excited to be part of this event – and looking forward to a new challange,” Izabela said.

“Sixty years ago Mr Philpott was instrumental in setting up a much-loved school that has educated generations of local people, and his personality has become a part of the fabric of the school.

“He was clearly a very good man who cared a great deal about Fairfax, and he is still remembered there fondly after all these years.

The late Gordon Philpott, the inspirational headteacher who founded Fairfax, is to be the subject of the new portrait. Fairfax School 60th anniversary
The late Gordon Philpott, the inspirational headteacher who founded Fairfax, is to be the subject of the new portrait.

“There is real excitement about celebrating the anniversary and I’m very happy to be part of this project.”

To create the oil portrait, Izabela met up with Mr Philpott’s grandson Neil and daughter-in-law Kath to look through old family photographs for inspiration and to learn more about the former teacher, who passed away in 1990.

Neil said: “I think this is a wonderful idea, and I’m very grateful to Izabela for offering to help us celebrate the anniversary in such a personal and memorable way.

“I remember as a little lad coming into the school and seeing my grandad’s photograph hanging in reception, but this will be a great way of marking his legacy to the community and his contribution to local education.”

Head of Academy Deborah Bunn said: “Gordon Philpott was the first headteacher at Fairfax and his influence is still felt here, from the academic standards that he instilled in the school to the annual Eisteddfod that he started.

“The Philpott family still play an active part in school life, and I can’t think of a better way of marking the school’s 60th birthday than by honouring his legacy. We’re so lucky to have an artist of Izabela’s standing offer to paint a portrait and we are very grateful indeed – and excited to see the finished painting!”

Highly-regarded Sutton artists Izabela ‘Venuso’ Okanska is creating a new portrait to help celebrate the Fairfax School 60th anniversary this year.
Highly-regarded Sutton artists Izabela ‘Venuso’ Okanska is creating a new portrait to help celebrate Fairfax School’s 60th birthday this year.

The September reunion is one of a number of events being planned to mark the Fairfax School 60th anniversary, from meals to an exhibition, and staff want former pupils to join its new alumni association to share memories and keepsakes from their school days.

If you are a former pupil and would like to know more about Fairfax’s 60th birthday plans, email alumni@fairfax.bham.sch.uk

For more on Fairfax, click here.

To visit Izabela’s website, click here.

To visit the Fairfax website, click here.

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