Kenneth John Petts, the son of an artist, was born on 17th September 1907 in Southgate, London. At the age of fifteen, he attended Hornsey Art School. He married in March 1931, and came to Bedford in 1952, where he resided at 89, Beverley Crescent. He came to live in Bedford because his two children, John(aged 16) and Jean(aged 14), were attending Bedford Modern School. His friendship with Sammy Volz,(fellow-student at Hornsey Art School, caricaturist, and later art master at Bedford Modern School, from 1928 until his death in 1958), possibly played a part in his decision to live in Bedford.Petts was enlisted as designer of the Bedford Modern School's christmas card. This usually featured the "blore facade" in the snow, or some festive lights illuminating the great windows.
He was a keen cricketer, and a member of the Martlets, a cricket club composed of B.M.S. masters, parents and recent O.B.M.s, who toured in Kent every summer during the pre and post-war years. These records include his self portrait as a bowler.
His chief work was in advertising, before he was claimed by the Royal Air force(where he rose to the rank of corporal). While he was there, he drew portraits of commanding officers and American colonels. After his release he turned to magazine work but continued in advertising work, albeit to a lesser extent.
His pictures appeared on the covers and pages of numerous issues of John Bull, Woman, Look and Learn, and other publications. Petts based some of his subjects on Bedford models. The policeman featured in "The Policman's Car," John Bull(1956), is from Bedford. The three girls who modelled for "The Engagement Ring," John Bull(1952), are also Bedfordians.
Petts was very proud of his artwork on biblical subjects for children's publications, such as The All-Colour Children's Bible and The Life of Jesus (John Bull supplement). There are many examples which show that he was right at the end of a tradition of history-painting going back to the late 18th century, almost recalling both the pre-Raphaelite and Cecil B. de Mille styles.
He was invited by Bedford Borough Council to contribute the frontpiece to Bedford, showing the presentation of the earliest extant charter by Henry the 2nd at Rouen. Another later civic commission was to paint a group portrait, showing 95-years-old Richard Turner(Petts's neighbour in Beverley Crescent), being presented to the Queen by Sir John Howard, on the occasion of H.M.'s visit to Bedford Modern School in 1977. (Neither of these works are present in this collection). K.J. Petts died on the 20th February 1992.2.