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Dorothy C.P. Ward, Tavistock Artist by Jane Miller

1924 Children Playing in a Stream, watercolour

‘Map of Plymouth 1933’, a painting owned by Plymouth Museum and Art Gallery, fascinated me for so long that I wanted to see other work by the artist, Dorothy Ward, and find out a little about her. The museum could tell me only that she had lived in Tavistock, so I wrote asking for help to the letters page of the Tavistock Times. The generous response to that request has enabled me to see and document dozens of paintings, drawings and sketches by Dorothy, as well as to gain some idea of her life. My admiration for her artistic work and appreciation of the range of subjects she covered has increased with every new discovery, and it is to revive pride in her as a resident of Tavistock that I am writing this article and putting on a small exhibition of her work.

Dorothy Ward pictured at her graduation in 1933


Dorothy Cordelia Phyllis Ward was born on 17th November 1909 at Tothill Avenue in Plymouth to Dr James Phillip Stephens Ward and his wife Alice Dorothy. In February 1911 a sister, Marjorie Claire, (known as Claire) was born. Her father was a popular surgeon and physician with a successful practice in Plymouth, well-off enough to change his pony and trap for a car, and make the groom a chauffeur, when they moved to Chollacott Park in Tavistock, a terrace of large Victorian houses, about 1930. In January of that year Dorothy started a Diploma in Design at the Royal College of Art in London. She was already an accomplished artist, as her painting of children playing in a stream, of 1924, aged only 14, shows. Sketchbooks from her time at the RCA have survived, revealing her skill at drawing the human form,

portraits and designs for book covers, fabric and wallpaper. By 1931 she had completed the working drawings for ‘Map of Plymouth’, a

masterpiece of conception as well as execution.

She graduated in July 1933. She appears in the class graduation photo as an attractive, intelligent, lively young woman. She may have spent some years as an art teacher before the Second World War, but it is known that during the War she worked for the Admiralty, engaged on secret work to do with planning aircraft movements. She was in Plymouth as D-Day approached, spending the evening before the invasion driving, with her driver, around the empty streets of the city. Her skills in accurate drawing so evident in her work, coupled with her intelligence, would have made her invaluable. Postwar, both she and Claire worked for the Air Observer Corps.

Some time after the War, in the late 40s, we find her teaching Art at St Michael’s School in Plymouth Road in Tavistock, now a Nursery. The pupils called her ‘Dorrit’, the name used by her family. One former pupil smiles at remembering being in ‘Dorrit’s’ class, aged 4, happily daubing paint everywhere, unaware that her teacher was a highly regarded artist. Another recalls her as ‘tall and twinkly’, and we can

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