Peter Froste: the passing of a brilliant era

Enjoyable and interesting as this can be, archaeology isn’t just about digging in the dirt in search of ancient remains. The truth is that, to the wider world, old foundations and bits and pieces like broken pots don’t really cut the ice. In fact, archaeological sites can be hard to understand even for the best archaeologists never mind the general public. This is why archaeologists need skilled creative people to help them bring their findings back to life. With the unexpected passing last month of the marvellous Peter Froste, Colchester has lost a great friend and the archaeological world a great practitioner of this elusive skill.

Peter came to Colchester in 1971 or 1972 for a few weeks as a volunteer digger to work on the big excavation at Lion Walk. When I learnt that he was an art teacher, I asked him if he would make a sketch of the site he was working on at the time so that passersby who peered through a specially- made viewing window (ie hole!) in the fence could get an idea of what we were finding. He readily agreed and what a stroke of luck this turned out to be! It was the start of a fifty-year long association with Colchester when Peter produced dozens of paintings and sketches depicting many of the discoveries made over this time.

The dig by Peter Froste.

I’m no art critic but for me Peter was a brilliant artist and surely the best in his field. He didn’t just recreate long-vanished buildings and places but part of his great talent lay in his ability to animate his images and bring them to life. This is why his best work was where he could weave people and animals into his pictures. His natural versatility was a great boon. He could work with all sorts of materials and tools – water colour, acrylic, pen and ink, and air brushes – and in a variety of styles such as traditional reconstructions, abstract works, and cartoons. He particularly liked working in oil because, as he would say, this allowed him to change things if he needed to as he went along.

Claudius takes the submission at Camulodunum (Colchester) of some British kings in AD 43. By Peter Froste.

We are lucky that Peter has left us all such a rich legacy. A lot of his work can been seen in the Roman Circus Visitor Centre, much of it made in recent years. This includes our own full-size modern circus mosaic which Peter designed, basing this loosely on the famous circus mosaic from Lyons in France. There is also the racing chariot cut-out in the garden and the fantastic oil painting depicting the Roman emperor Claudius taking the submission of some British kings at Colchester in AD 43. This last work is a large masterpiece in oil where close inspection of the clothing is rewarded by an appreciation of its exquisite detail.

Peter and Mary Froste at the Reconstructing the Past exhibition of Peter’s paintings and drawings at the the Roman Circus Centre in 2018.

Fortunately we mounted an exhibition of Peter’s work, ‘Reconstructing the Past‘, four years ago. As a tribute, we plan this spring to hang as many of his works as we can in the centre again. This time they will be scattered around the place and mixed with everything else on display. It’ll be a bit of a squeeze and maybe look a bit odd but a mix like this seems more appropriate since there is so much of Peter embedded in the place that it almost feels like his personal gallery!

Peter was a lovely man to work with and know. He was a great friend who, it hardly needs to be said, will be missed by all of us. Our hearts go out to Mary his wife and Ben his son .