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Archive Spotlight - Emillio Coia

Winget Concrete

Emilio Coia was born in Glasgow on 13 April 1911, the son of Giovanni Coia, an Italian immigrant who owned ice-cream shops and cafes in the city. Educated at St Mungo's Academy, Glasgow, Coia began studying at the Glasgow School of Art in 1927, at the age of sixteen, under Maurice Greiffenhagen who quickly recognised his talents as a caricaturist. While still a student Coia drew for GUM - the Glasgow University Magazine, and was the first artist to cover the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, for the Scots Observer. After five years at art school, and in the face of parental opposition to his marrying a protestant, Coia eloped to London with a fellow student.

With just twelve pounds to his name, Coia touted his drawings around Fleet Street, selling his first caricatures to the Sunday Chronicle. He also contributed to Everybody's, Bookman, the Daily Express, Tatler, Sketch, Passing Show, Sunday Referee, Week-end Review, News Chronicle and others. Coia was hailed as "the first Cubist caricaturist", but in 1932 his association with the Sunday Chronicle came to a sudden end when the paper's most influential columnist, Beverley Nichols, objected strongly to Coia's drawing of his friend the novelist Ethel Mannin. He demanded that it be removed from the artist's first one-man show at the Reid & Lefebre Gallery, London, and when Coia refused he was sacked by the Chronicle's editor James Drawbell.

Soon his abilities came to be recognised and he drew and became friends with Bernard Shaw, G K Chesterton, W H Auden, Rebecca West, T S Elliott, Evelyn Waugh, the Sitwells, Max Beerbohm, D H Lawrence, Henry Moore, Augustus John, Stephen Spender, George Braque, W H Auden, Alfred Hitchcock, Hugh McDiarmid, Cary Grant, Henry Moore and Stravinsky, among many other personalities from the realms of art, literature and the theatre.

Many of the caricatures featured in his first one-man exhibition in 1932 at the Reid and Lefebre Gallery in London. But high prices were not paid for caricatures; and he also lost his newspaper job at the insistence of the well-known and influential Chronicle columnist, Beverly Nichols, who objected to Coia’s caricature of his friend, the novelist, Ethel Mannin. Emilio later remarked that her surname was appropriate.

Coia got a job as assistant advertising manager and later personnel manager at a heavy engineering firm in Rochester in Kent - Winget Concrete and Machinery which during the war years produced anti-aircraft shells and winches for the Admiralty.

"The war divided me," he later recalled: "I felt a Britisher, but my blood is Italian. I actually tried to join the British Army at Chatham Labour Exchange but I was told I was doing too important a job at the factory."

Coia created Miss Swinger for Winget Life - Winget's in-house magazine. Miss Swinget's adventures appeared in the early editions of the magazine in 1939. She had escapades in the and encounters with amorous admirers. Her exploits however were short lived and once the Phoney War was over she was abandoned in favour of news relating to the company's war work.

Coia turned his talent to producing cartoons about wartime events and began his series of staff caricatures. He also produced a series of cartoons entitled "Winget Concrete is Great Concrete".

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Thanks to Timescapes for the content of this spotlight.