Unless you have lived in Tavistock in Devon or the surrounding area for several decades you could be forgiven if the name Dorothy C.P. Ward means nothing to you. I feel sure those of us who know of Dorothy and her paintings are in the minority, and it seems sad that her work is so little known even here in the town. In fact to my knowledge, and to date, the Town Council have not recognised Dorothy's life or her work in any way.
Dorothy Cordelia Phyllis Ward was born in Plymouth on 17th November 1909, the daughter of an eminent and respected doctor and his wife who were sufficiently well-off to move from the city to one of Tavistock's grander houses, in Whitchurch on the outskirts of the town, in about 1930.
In January 1930 Dorothy started a Diploma in Design at the Royal College of Art in London, she served in the WRNS during the war returning to Tavistock and taking up the position of art teacher at a little private school in the town. Dorothy died in a local nursing home in 1994, she never married and lived all her life in the large family home in Chollacott Park with her sister Claire, also unmarried, who died in 1992, and with them perhaps has gone much of the vitally important history. The house and contents were auctioned and dispersed years ago and thus far only two photos of Dorothy herself have come to light.
Bookhound, with his usual eagle eye, had been on the DCPW trail for many years, buying a couple of pictures when he saw them for sale and more recently snapping up a collection of Dorothy's Royal College of Art sketchbooks from a market stall here in Tavistock. So when Jane Miller's letter requesting information about Dorothy appeared in the local paper he was soon on the phone, Jane came to call and we shared all our treasures with her.
Jane first saw this remarkable 1933 gouache painting Map of Plymouth and District (190 x 121 cms) in Plymouth Museum (currently not on display and to our dismay we now hear it has 'gone missing') and like the rest of us fell in love with Dorothy's work.
I've had a postcard of this near my desk for years, and we have since discovered a page of working drawings for it in one of the sketchbooks. These were the days when Plymouth still had its pier (destroyed by bombing in WWII and never re-built) but it's the cleverest most intricate and uniquely proportioned 'map' of the pre-war city and the surrounding area, and with just a glimpse of the Brunel Bridge across the Tamar over to the left. Even more unique considering its aerial perspective which Dorothy seems unlikely to have sighted for herself.
It is since her first meeting with this painting that Jane has worked diligently and steadfastly (for example we had no idea Jane had no car and thus came to see us by bus and then did two miles on foot) to try and reclaim and bring to public attention the work of Dorothy C.P. Ward. So when the invitation came to attend The Tavistock Group of Artists annual June exhibition in the Town Hall, a group co-founded by Dorothy in 1953, and also to see a small retrospective of Dorothy's work we were there.
We have a couple of paintings, one is of the North Cornish village of Boscastle dated 1962 and which I've always felt was a bit 'twee'. I'm reliably advised that I know nothing about perspective, which we know to be true, and should appreciate this egg tempura painting for that if nothing else, but I'm sorry to admit that it has spent some time in the loft at my behest. I've now eaten humble pie and it has been rehabilitated to a wall spot in the sitting room, because I can see that though not to everyone's taste, Dorothy Ward is an artist whose work needs to be viewed in the context of the time when it was painted, and as part of her entire oeuvre.
The entire oeuvre is another question entirely because it must be scattered to the four corners. By all accounts Dorothy was a prolific artist who gave a great deal of her work away so there must be some gems tucked away in houses somewhere.
So we went to the exhibition back in June and one painting stole my heart. I was camera-less on the day we went ( a first) and when I got home was so worried by the thought that I may never see this picture again, that I went back the next day and made sure I had, with permission, recorded it and a few others for my own enjoyment and yours.
It's entitled Washing Day 1934 and I spent ages looking at it, fell in love with it and would have happily tucked it under my arm, brought it home and decorated a room to match if I could have done. The setting is local but with some artistic licence and demonstrates Dorothy's fine art skills and attention to the most delicate details, and all combined with her happy knack of telescoping a view to encompass distance whilst always maintaining perspective and proportion.
More from the sketch books to follow, Dorothy was an accomplished calligrapher too and also wrote and illustrated her own children' books. They were never published and, though very of their time, the pictures are quite exquisite.
How sad it would be if all this had just disappeared, and congratulation to Jane for all her hard work in ensuring that hopefully it won't.