Sunday, March 1, 2020

Muriel Dawson, a Phone Box discovery

We're still trying to raise funds for the Lera Voe phone box - there a GoFundMe link here if anybody would like to throw a pound or two at it and I'm still looking into the bits of local history I can find online, which in turn has led me to Muriel Dawson.

Dad has been interviewed for the BBC, you can read about him here, or even listen to him on Radio Scotland here. He is most delighted by having been caricatured by Smirk in The Shetland Times though. A copy should be on it's way to me, which I guess will be framed to go in the toilet in time honoured fashion. But enough about dad for now and on to Muriel Dawson.

Miss Dawson was an artist, born in Canterbury, New Zealand in 1897. Her family moved to England in 1913, and she started studying at the Richmond School of Art. She had a prolific career as an illustrator producing what probably amounts to 1000's of pictures of wide eyed young children (it feels like 1000's when you start trawling through them on google). In the late 1950s she moved to Shetland where she lived until she died in 1974.

The house she lived in was called Backlands and is on the opposite side of Lera Voe to our phone box. It's probably a 10 minute walk and would have been the nearest phone she had access to, especially when she first moved there (I don't know if she eventually had a phone line of her own, but it wouldn't have been a given in that part of Shetland even in the 1970's) so it's safe to assume that she would have used it. Perhaps more to the point it would have been a familiar landmark and part of her view.

I remember hearing about Miss Dawson as a child, a friends mother had some of her drawings (pastels I think) which were charming, but it's a long time since she's been mentioned and I'd more or less forgotten about her. Prints of her work are still easily available, but because wide eyed toddlers in romper suits aren't my thing it's only this weekend that I've discovered that she also did 100's of natural history studies.

When she died she bequeathed the bulk of these to The Natural History Museum, there are very hard to make out scanned images here which are making me want to go to Kensington to search through the real things which look to include several landscapes local to Lera Voe and Dale of Walls, as well as studies of the flora and fauna and even the local regatta. There are also pages of her work here and again the pencil studies show a different artist.

There will still be people locally who might be expected to remember Miss Dawson reasonably well, but not as many as there would have been a decade ago - whatever else this project turns up there's a fair amount of regret on my part that I didn't think to look into any of this earlier.

One thing I have learnt about Dawson which intrigues me though is that she converted to Catholicism, many of her sketches are dates, and frequently they feature a symbol on the top left hand corner that denotes the saints day that she drew them on. Collectively it must turn these studies into a book of days.

This one is in the Natural History Museum collection.


  1. What an interesting interview with your Father a what a coincidence that the man who threw the bottle runs a magazine devoted to pictures of telephone booths!

    What a find Muriel Dawson is too - I shall be looking for her work online.

    1. I’m looking forward to finding out a bit more about her when I’m next in Shetland - although the collapse of Flybe is upsetting all my travel plans at the moment.

  2. Do you know if she ever signed her workM.O’D? I have a reverse painting on glass that looks like her work