We had a fantastically productive day at Sheffield. The nature diaries are fabulous, not only revealing Mary’s accomplished drawing skills but also a keen eye for detail and a diligence and commitment to collecting that is abundantly evident through her Bygones collection (I wish I could post some images but we still need to receive copyright permission). Here she is collecting information about the flora and fauna of the Westmill area in Hertfordshire, but particularly in and around the garden at Coles, the family residence.
Coles residence, the main site of the nature diaries
Dating from the early 1900’s every page is a delight with a number of comprehensive drawings in a variety of media (she was very good at bugs and spiders) and handwritten notes which are both analytically incisive and heart felt. Writing of these books to the Guild of St George (to whom she donated the note books in 1940) she says “..I have two nature note books done at various times… They are…amateurish, I had no lessons. I tried to paint little things which I thought of interest or beauty – this Ruskin had taught me to aim at.…”. The drawings are very much in the Ruskin tradition.
One of my favourite inclusions is a series of rubbings taken from a rough pole across a stile at Church Stretton. These show the galleries produced by the female beetles and larvae of scolytid beetles and demonstrate her attention to detail and genuine curiosity for the world around her. The books are also full of little anecdotes such as the mole that Hazel mentions “…found in the potting shed. Sorry to say (I/we?) killed it fearing its ravages in the garden“. But she drew it afterwards so all not lost then! She sometimes tried to save things too, like the baby chaffinch that fell out of the nest whilst she was taking tea, she gave it a meal of chopped egg!
Perhaps the notebooks also reveal the origin of one of the objects in the Bygones collection! In November 1917 she wrote “… I’ve found a group of the smallest funghi I have ever seen. I looked at a piece of this plank and looked at them through a microscope…”. There is a microscope in one of the cupboards at Queen’s Park. I wonder if it was the one she used?
Also stuck into one of the books is a wonderful photograph showing “the artist at work“. Mary is sat at a table full of drawing equipment in the garden at Coles (if only the microscope had been there!).
These notebooks are packed full of the most delightful, charming and meticulous information and deserve to be published in their own right. They are certainly as good if not better than anything else published of this ilk. One is currently on display at the Graves Art Gallery in Sheffield. If you get the chance go and have a look, you won’t be disappointed! Sharon