My partner Carry Franklin, who has died aged 47 from cancer, was an artist and teacher, and the founder of Leeds Little Free Libraries. The small, vividly painted cabinets on street corners, inviting people to take or leave a book, have spread throughout the city and beyond.
Reflecting Carry’s commitment to the transformative power of the arts, the scheme she started in 2017 has grown to more than 50 libraries that, she said, “feel a bit like political acts … [against the] tide of commercialism, hate, fear and selfishness”.
Carry’s intelligence, humour and sparkling presence enabled her to forge unique personal connections. She could also be tempestuous, taking on injustice wherever she saw it.
Born into a progressive Jewish family in Golders Green, London, Carry was the daughter of Irving Franklin, a woodturner, and Farita (nee Berney). She was, friends say, the funniest girl in school at Haberdashers’ Aske’s in Elstree, Hertfordshire. Aged 18, she spent a year working on a kibbutz before going on to Leeds University, where she gained a first in English.
Turning down conventional pathways, in 1995 Carry decamped to Kirkcudbrightshire in Scotland to teach at Kilquhanity, a radical free school, before returning to Leeds two years later. After the birth of her daughter, Shula, in 2001, from a relationship with Iggi Demello, Carry co-wrote and produced the feature film Suzie Gold (2003), directed by her friend Ric Cantor. She then joined Theatre of the Dales, performing Shakespeare across Yorkshire.
Subsequently Carry trained as a primary teacher specialising in art. She taught in south Leeds schools, notably for 12 years at Clapgate, where she established a vibrant art room and inspired staff to develop an arts-centred curriculum.
A natural storyteller, she also worked with Alive & Kicking, a theatre company devoted to creating participatory plays for children. Carry was a charismatic performer and workshop leader, who could engage and delight children of all ages, as well as reaching the most vulnerable. She and I met at a community music festival in Hull in 2005. I had found a large toad under a rock when Carry appeared with about four children in tow, and they all stopped to look at the creature.
In 2014, Carry saw a little library in Golders Green, and decided to take the concept home to Leeds, but thought that it should be an object of beauty, as well as functional. She painted the first box in late 2016, which she set up outside our home, and the following year teamed up with the artist Jacky Fleming and woodturner Dave Ayres to make more, and become Leeds Little Free Libraries. Initially individuals, schools and local businesses applied for them, but funding from Leeds city council ensured that the libraries, some painted by guest artists, could be located in communities across the city.
Four years after being diagnosed with breast cancer, Carry was told in 2017 that her illness was terminal. She embraced the news with courage, exploring mortality as one of life’s mysteries.
She is survived by me and Shula, and by her mother and her brother, Shimon.