Evangeline Dickson

Artist and illustrator
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The Independent Online

When she was nearly 40 the artist Evangeline Dickson went to live in Suffolk, the county of Thomas Gainsborough, John Constable and Alfred Munnings. The move changed her life. At last she was able to pursue a career in art, and with her highly individual work, mostly in her preferred medium of watercolour, she became part of the long tradition of East Anglian painters.

Evangeline Mary Lambart Sladen, artist; born Sheffield 31 August 1922; married 1949 John Wanless Dickson (died 2001; one son, two daughters); died Wirksworth, Derbyshire 21 May 2004.

When she was nearly 40 the artist Evangeline Dickson went to live in Suffolk, the county of Thomas Gainsborough, John Constable and Alfred Munnings. The move changed her life. At last she was able to pursue a career in art, and with her highly individual work, mostly in her preferred medium of watercolour, she became part of the long tradition of East Anglian painters.

Dickson was born Evangeline Sladen in 1922, in Sheffield, of Salvation Army parents. Her great-grandfather was General William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, and she herself was named after her formidable great-aunt Evangeline Booth. Her parents' duties frequently took them away from home so she was sent as a child to boarding school in Devon. She got to know its hills and moors and wild places - it was a love that lasted all her life and the British landscape and its history were to be key themes in her work. Separated from the influence of her parents, Evangeline was also released from the more strident elements of the Salvation Army. From now on she was a member of the Church of England.

On leaving school she worked as a nurse and then as a teacher. With her blue eyes and permed blonde hair she was a remarkably beautiful young woman - although she was covered with chicken pox when she first met her husband, John Wanless Dickson, who was a medical student and a friend of her brother. They married in 1949. He became an orthopaedic surgeon, and in 1960 with their young family they moved to Westerfield near Ipswich in Suffolk. Because of her strong allergy to dust, they built a new house for themselves which was considered healthier, if less picturesque, than an old one.

The new house was constructed with a studio, for Dickson now felt able to follow her passion for painting. Although she did not attend a school of art she studied with two local artists, Violet Garrod, the painter and miniaturist, and Anna Airy, who was both a watercolourist and etcher, particularly of plants and flowers. Airy - who had herself trained under Wilson Steer - had a forceful character but Dickson had been used to strong women all her life and they became close friends.

During the course of her life as an artist Dickson was to have a prodigious output; always willing to experiment, she worked in a wide variety of styles which reflected the wide range of subjects which inspired her. These varied from cotton grasses and wild flowers to farm wagons and prehistoric monuments.

For her exhibition "Ancient Places" held at the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum in 1992 she painted the stone circles at Stonehenge and Avebury as well as the White Horse at Uffington. But she had other interests too and Dickson's strong social conscience took her down to London to draw the down-and-outs of "cardboard city" as another project. Perhaps unsurprisingly, although she charged very little for her work, these pictures did not sell particularly well.

Commissioned work included illustrations for the Collins Guide to the Grasses, Sedges, Rushes and Ferns of Britain and Northern Europe (1984) and for Lee Chadwick's In Search of Heathland (1982).

Dickson exhibited throughout Suffolk as well as with both the Royal Watercolour Society and the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolour and at the Paris Salon. She was a founder member of the British Watercolour Society and for some time Chairman of the Ipswich Art Society. Examples of her work can be found in art galleries in Sheffield and Ipswich and in private collections worldwide.

Wildlife conservation became another of her causes and for many years she helped voluntarily with the Suffolk Wildlife Trust; she was also a warden to the Monewden Nature Reserve, where she helped with the nurturing of the orchids and fritillaries. She strongly opposed the construction of the Sizewell B nuclear power station.

Kind and considerate, gently independent and clear as to what she was and wanted, she endeared herself to many. In the last years of her life, however, she suffered from Alzheimer's disease and she and her husband moved to live with their daughter at Wirksworth in Derbyshire. As the disease progressed so, ultimately, she lost all sense of the propriety which had been her legacy from the Salvation Army.

A large exhibition of Evangeline Dickson's work was held at Woodbridge in Suffolk in September 2003.

Simon Fenwick

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