Rosalind Stracey

Sculptor inspired by Suffolk wildlife and seashore


Margaret Rosalind Linley Stracey, sculptor: born London 8 October 1907; married 1959 Major Peter Harris (died 1976); died London 23 November 2005.

Rosalind Stracey proved that the decision to study and pursue art professionally in middle age can result in a prolific and successful career. She went on producing distinctive sculptures into her nineties.

By then, she had had well over a dozen solo shows in London and around Britain, had completed a series of commissions and won a national competition. Unlike some artists, Stracey did not get stuck in an aesthetic rut. "You could say that the older she got, the more modern her work became," says her cousin Ramona Darvas.

Stracey was born in 1907 and brought up in Edwardian splendour at Rackheath Hall, near Norwich. Her father was Sir Edward Stracey Bt, at one time High Sheriff of Norfolk, her mother May Sheridan, a direct descendant of the playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan. Rosalind rode and shot from childhood, and retained a love of East Anglia's marshes, country figures and wildlife. She was also a keen sailor, once crewing for the yachtsman Uffa Fox.

When the Second World War broke out she joined the ambulance service, later worked in the American Office of War Information and only returned from America to England in 1946.

When she joined Chelsea School of Art for a five-year course in 1947, at the age of 39, she was surrounded by talented students 20 years her junior. In addition, she had never learned to draw, a fundamental skill for an aspiring sculptor. One close and lifelong friendship was made with a fellow-student, the young Elisabeth Frink, with whom she shared an East Anglian background.

Stracey was fortunate with her teachers. She was mainly taught by Bernard Meadows, one of Britain's most notable 20th-century sculptors, also for a time with the French sculptor Germaine Richier. Richier was influenced by Alberto Giacometti, a sculptor revered by Stracey. Redolent of Frink and Giacometti, Stracey's own bronzes of animals, birds and elongated human figures also set out to capture the essence of the subject in a sculptural shorthand. They are unconcerned with photographic reality.

Studies over, Stracey applied her skills with professional dedication. Although she was quite a private person, she strove to exhibit and from the mid-1950s was participating widely in group shows in venues including the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition,Artists of Chelsea, Society of Portrait Sculptors and Alwin Gallery, as well as in East Anglia.

She had studios in St Leonard's Terrace, Chelsea, and at Walberswick, on the Suffolk coast. It was in her gallery there that Iris Birtwistle began promoting Stracey in 1960. Birtwistle remained an enthusiastic advocate of her work in Walberswick and elsewhere. Stracey was happiest in Walberswick, says Ramona Darvas, "getting her inspiration from wildlife, the seashore and driftwood". She was also a keen amateur ornithologist.

Her sculptures were modelled in resin or plaster, then cast in bronze. "Modern materials dictate their own discipline," she explained. "They make possible the abandonment of bulk, thus allowing a sense of movement and the trapping of space." Swiftly observed scenes, from a passing car or when strolling, were captured, recorded and stylised. She used humour to lay bare the tenderness of human relations. The approach was vigorous and direct, the result commonly rough-hewn in appearance.

Underlying her output was a fundamental restlessness. "I have always found it impossible to remain uniform," she said:

Constant change for me is essential. All my working life I have drifted through such subjects as mother and child, people meeting people, street scenes of vagrants, roadmen, old women with dogs, toreadors, dressed up ladies with parasols and hats, and fruit sellers. In fact, all the models the family, the street and country offered me.

Among Stracey's major commissions was a bas-relief for the gateway to St Luke's Church, Chelsea, executed in 1963. She was 88 when in 1995 she won the competition to create a trophy for the Times Preacher of the Year. Stracey celebrated her 90th birthday in 1997 with a solo exhibition at Robert Travers' Piano Nobile gallery in London, her 15th solo show.

In 1959, Stracey had married Major Peter Harris, a stockbroker and serious art collector, who had a collection of paintings by Augustus John as well as works by such notables as Paul Nash and James Dickson Innes. When Harris died in 1976, his collection was left to Stracey, but the cost of insuring them and fear of housing such valuable works prompted her to pass them to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.

David Buckman

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