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She Was Loved: Memories of Beatrix Potter
She Was Loved: Memories of Beatrix Potter
Josefina de Vasconcellos
Josefina de Vasconcellos gives a fascinating insight into her great friendship with Beatrix Potter. Accompanying the text are works by Beatrix Potter herself, including previously unpublished paintings and a series of nature drawings from the Armitt Trust
Also included are previously unpublished personal letters sent from Beatrix Potter to Josefina in the 1930s and 1940s. Also featured are many poems, and a foreword by Mary E. Burkett. This is a worthy tribute to a celebrated life.
Line illustrations. Colour and b&w photographs.
"When you meet her, you feel like some-one who has always eaten White Bread and suddenly tastes Brown Wholemeal."
This is Josefina de Vasconcellos, one of Cumbria's most remarkable artists, talking about another, Beatrix Potter.
Josefina is now 98 years old and despite being frail in body she continues to work. "I can't turn pages over easily, but I can still hold a chisel or a mallet." And she continues to work at her sculpture and her painting.
Josefina first met the tubby old lady with rosy cheeks and the brightest blue eyes at the Eskdale Autumn Sheep Show. Beatrix Potter had just won a silver cup with one of her Herdwick ewes. A farmer slapped her on the back and greeted her with "Well done lass,"
Later Josefina and her husband Delmar Banner, who painted the best-known portrait of the writer cum sheep farmer with judging card in hand at a sheep show, called at Castle Cottage. Beatrix's clogs shuffled across the flagstones and she opened the door wearing a woollen tea-cosy to keep her head warm. "She settled in her armchair," Josefina tells us, " and we sat 'on the edge of coppy stools' like Pigling and Pigwig in Mr McGregor's house."
On her last visit, Josefina was shown some zig-zag clover. "It affected me to see how tiny she was by then. Near the gate I looked round. She was standing just where Timmy Willie stood when he waved goodbye to Tommy Town Mouse - and she waved her zig-zag clover just as he did - knowing that I would see all and understand."
Beatrix Potter "was not one to evade awkward corners by hiding in a haze of politeness." She called on new neighbours in the old Cumbrian way in her old clothes and at the backdoor and if people didn't like it she knew where she stood.
Josefina's recollections of Beatrix Potter are offered with honest affection She writes, as she says, "like sparrows pick up crumbs" but she introduces the solid no-nonsense Cumbrian woman who has captivated the minds of children and adults alike, as a friend.
This friend wrote letters to Pigwig as she christened Josefina. At first they were very business like, helping with land and property, but later ones offered supportive criticism of poems and painting. And there were comments on life and the weather. There are times when Beatrix felt it "more and more a struggle to get the day's work done" and times when she "expects a wigging" on her next visit because some old rose trees have been uprooted. And then she is "not too proud to come up in a milk float provided you can haul me into it!" She advises on painting and the proper raising of working colley dogs.
In the middle of the bitter December of 1937 she writes of the snowfall, "the heaviest fall for twenty years; and it thaws so slowly; freezing under the bright moon again." But she also remembers her sheep and finds it ghastly to think of the carrion crows."
This beautifully produced book is illustrated with drawings, paintings and sculptures by Josefina, which provide a moving commentary on her own life and her feelings for Mrs. Heelis, as Beatrix Potter was known. All the letters are reproduced in facsimile and there are also some of Beatrix Potters own watercolours and drawings.
At the end of one letter is a self-portrait as near to Mrs Tiggy-Winkle as to the life, all dressed up in old woollens and tweeds.
Beatrix Potter was reputed not to like children. In her introduction Mary Burkett recalls meeting two middle-aged women who had known her when they were children. "She used to play with us," they reported, "and go hunting for bears in the wood. It was only them toffee-nosed children who were brought from the towns to visit her that she didn't bother with."
The real Beatrix Potter was the tastiest Brown Wholemeal. - Steve Matthews, Bookcase.
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