Leave Talent Alone
I love a good obituary – so long as it’s not mine! And why not, we learn a lot from other peoples’ lives. For example, I remember a friend asking a former classmate why he was such a successful hotelier. The hotelier explained that he learnt something from everybody he ever met.
This is one obituary which impressed me twelve years ago. It’s the obituary of Sr Mary Barbara Bailey, the daughter of Cuthbert Bailey, former manager of Doulton china.
While a manager, he decided to make a children’s range of crockery. Who better to illustrate it than his daughter Barbara, by then a Catholic nun. The range was to be called Bunnykins.
She was a natural talent at drawing, her obituary in the Daily Telegraph tells us:
Barbara Vernon Bailey was born on June 28 1910 at Bulkeley Hall at Woore, Shropshire, where she enjoyed filling sketchbooks with drawings of the countryside around, as well as of the pets kept by her four brothers and two sisters. Her sketches included pigs, cows, horses and ferrets as well as cuddly dogs, cats and guinea pigs; but it was the wild rabbits in the fields which delighted her most.
As a child, Barbara was taught by a series of governesses at home, though her father didn’t let her take drawing lessons. This is what impressed me about her story; he was obviously wise, refusing to be like many modern pushy parents. His thinking was as follows,
“If you teach a little talent, you snuff it out,” he would say. “If you leave it alone, it will grow.”
The paintings, drew on affectionate memories of childhood and were predominantly of Mr Rabbit who, with his round glasses and pipe, bore a distinct resemblance to her father, the Telegraph tells us. He was shown engaged on such tasks as struggling to fix his braces or creasing his trousers with the garden roller, while his wife – who was dressed in blue because this was “Our Lady’s colour” – attended to domestic duties.
Sr Mary Barbara turned out more than 1,000 pictures, sitting up late at night, drawing by candlelight as the convent had no electricity. The convent never received a penny in royalties or fees, thanks to the naïve decision by the Reverend Mother.
The Bunnykins range was a huge international success, customers including Japanese and British Royals. Read the story here
See also my post above on Beatrix Potter’s comment on a neighbouring child’s drawings before and after starting school.
Biography of Sr Mary: Wikipedia
A list of the Bunnykins figurines
Psychology professor Adam Grant’s article in The New York Times is worth a read: How to Raise a Creative Child. Step One: Back Off