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Suffragette artist and master toymaker gets exhibition in Pinner, 77 years after her death

An exciting new exhibition has opened its doors at the Heath Robinson Museum in Pinner, shining a long-overdue spotlight on the multi-talented Mary V Wheelhouse (1868-1947).

This exhibition marks the first-ever solo showcase of her remarkable body of work.

Mary V Wheelhouse, born in Leeds in 1868, was a versatile artist, including roles as a book illustrator, painter, suffragette, and master toymaker. Her wooden toy creations remain highly sought after by collectors, showcasing her exceptional craftsmanship and artistic talent.

Throughout her lifetime, Wheelhouse pursued various artistic endeavors. She studied at the Scarborough School of Art in 1895, followed by a stint at the Académie Delécluse in Paris. Her oil and watercolor paintings graced exhibitions in Paris, London, and Leeds. By 1899, she had settled in London, working at Pomona Studios in Chelsea.

In 1915, Mary V Wheelhouse joined forces with fellow artist and suffragette Louise Jacobs to establish Pomona Toys in Chelsea. Following the dissolution of their partnership, Wheelhouse collaborated with sculptor Aileen Blanche Ellis to continue their business.

Pomona Toys gained recognition for its wooden dolls, animals, Noah’s Arks, and dolls’ houses, which were showcased at craft fairs and their Chelsea shop. The enterprise later relocated to Kensington and thrived until the outbreak of World War II.

Suffragette artist and master toymaker gets exhibition in Pinner, 77 years after her death Harrow Online
Postcard for the Artists’ Suffrage League by Mary V Wheelhouse © The Women’s Library at LSE

Wheelhouse was an active participant in the Suffragette movement, becoming a member of the Artists’ Suffrage League (ASL) during the early 1900s. In 1910, she created two impactful political cartoons for the ASL, which were published as postcards. One of these, titled “Those who ask shan’t have, those who don’t ask don’t want,” portrays Britannia feeding ‘votes’ to a boy while turning her back on seven hungry-looking girls.

The original drawing for this postcard is a prominent feature of the landmark exhibition, which runs from January 13, 2024, to March 24, 2024, at the Heath Robinson Museum in Pinner.

The exhibition encompasses 39 illustrations, five Pomona dolls, a selection of Pomona wooden animals, a Pomona toy theatre with additional dolls and puppets, photographs of Wheelhouse, Pomona memorabilia, and more. The suffragette theme extends to include prints of work by other Artists’ Suffrage League members and photographs of suffragette marches.

Despite her significant achievements during her lifetime, including winning awards for her book illustrations and creating highly sought-after toys, Mary V Wheelhouse’s name and work have largely faded into obscurity. This inaugural solo exhibition seeks to rectify this historical oversight by reintroducing her remarkable contributions to the world of art and toymaking.

Exhibition curator Hannah Whyte explained: “This exhibition highlights one of Britain’s many ‘forgotten’ women artists – and explores the plight of the activists and artists who made huge progress in their lifetimes for little recognition.

“Mary V Wheelhouse was a remarkable artist, illustrator, and toymaker. The beauty and skill of her work shine through in this exhibition, as does her ability to address anything from sentimental to political subjects. She was an enormous creative talent, as well as a suffragette and a successful businesswoman. Her versatility, talent, and determination speak for themselves. I’m delighted to place her back in the public eye.”

The exhibition runs until March 25, Thursday – Sunday from 11am to 4pm. Special Exhibition entry is included in the standard cost of museum entry. Tickets can be purchased on walk-in or prebooked online at  www.heathrobinsonmuseum.org.