Meet Mabel


Mabel Pakenham Walsh self portrait

Mabel Pakenham-Walsh self portrait – The National Library of Wales

Don’t you find it is exciting, and inspiring, when you’re introduced to new work.  I’ve found it one of the many (and important) things that come of artists getting together, through a group or meeting or visiting an exhibition together.  Conversations take flight and you learn such a lot.  Hearing about other artist’s practice, how they make work, their influences.  I love it and it feeds me.

A little nugget of this sort was given me by the ‘camera operator’ at my recent demonstration and talk.  He had a sister, called Mabel, who was an artist, a wood carver mostly, and painter –  she held classes for wood and stone carving.  An irresistable video of her in conversation about her work made me think I’ve known her always.  What an amazing woman, her life story is a link to post war Britain and the struggle to be creative.   She impresses as larger than life, and quite a personality!  However, I must introduce her properly – meet Mabel Pakenham-Walsh.

Wood carved panel by Mabel Pakenham-Walsh

The Dance of the Birds, Mabel Pakenham-Walsh, 1974, Crafts Council Collection: W3. Photo: Todd-White Art Photography.

Mabel grew up in Lancaster, and trained at Lancaster College of Art (1954-58) and then at Wimbledon College of Art (1958-59).

In 1976 she moved to mid-Wales and produced a series of relief carvings relating to local stories, myths and legends.  Animals, beasts, folk tales and biblical stories feature in her work which was  mostly made  from recycled or found materials.  Her wood carvings were made from ironing boards, breadboards and old ships’ timbers.   Her jewellery was made from a cut-up caravan.  (Doesn’t she sound contemporary – ‘of today’).  Mabel noted that among her influences were naive art, outsider art and primitive art, but she did not consider herself to fit into any of those categories.

Wood sign of a Boring Bookworm for a children's bookshop

A Sign of a Boring Bookworm for a Children’s Bookshop, Mabel Pakenham-Walsh, 1980, Crafts Council Collection: W56. Photo: Todd-White Art Photography.

Among her many talents I think was story-telling,  not only in the spoken way, but it is also in her talkative carvings – they flow and follow on.  Her groupings sit comfortably, as if happy friends, chatting and adventuring together.  Mabel was well known to other artists as a supporter, good friend and mentor and I think she would be happy that I ‘found’ her in exactly this type of fellowship.

Wood carved and painted gate

Gate, Mabel Pakenham-Walsh, 1975, Crafts Council Collection: W4. Photo: Todd-White Art Photography.

Ceredigion Museum in Aberystwyth organised a retrospective of her carvings and drawings in 2012, which coincided with the video interview with Mabel about her life and work,  and many of her pieces were purchased by the National Library of Wales and are held in its collection.  Mabel died in September 2013.

Picture of Mabel Pakenham-Walsh

Mabel pictured with some of her wood carvings

If you could choose a beast, folk tale, myth or legend to be carved in a relief panel, what would it be?  Let me know – just pop your ideas in the comments box below.

Mine would be the Jonah and the Whale story.


 (Many thanks to Nick Chester, Documentation Officer, Crafts Council for his lovely help in finding images of Mabel’s relief carving)


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