Sheila Dorrell (née Greenhalgh, later Fisher): Illustrator of Soderberg’s Books on Foreign Birds

My post of 15 January 2014 deals with the four volumes in a series, Foreign Birds for Cage and Aviary, written by Percy Measday Soderberg (1901-1969) and published in 1956. The colour plates were by Sheila Dorrell about whom I could find little information. I am pleased that thanks to her niece, Alison Greenhalgh, I am able to provide much more information.

Alison writes (with any additional information in square brackets):

Sheila Greenhalgh was born in Lancashire in 1918 and lived in Turton, she studied at the Manchester College of Art until this was interrupted by the war, she worked on a lathe in a factory (I think) and was proud to be able to set up the lathe herself.  She moved to London after the war. At some point [1949 in Hampstead] she married Anthony Dorrell, like her a communist and artist, the marriage failed, and I have no recollection of Anthony but it was at this time that she must have come into contact with people like Ken Sprague and Wilfred Willett (who bequeathed his library to her) all sharing common ground.  As a strange coincidence I went to school with Ken’s daughter, and it was not until many years later on a chance meeting with him that I learnt that he was a life-long friend of Sheila. 

She moved to Laxfield in Suffolk in 1968 possibly due to work she was collaborating on with Paxton Chadwick (she had met him at the Manchester College of Art [he also illustrated Soderberg’s first volume]). There is a rumour that because of her communist leanings and the company she was keeping of like minded people that her phone was being bugged etc, and she moved to find peace.  Here she bought her beloved 16th century cottage.

She continued to paint, exhibiting at the Rotunda Gallery in 1970. ( I am sure there were a couple of other London shows, but I have no knowledge of where of when these were.) In 1971 she exhibited at the Yoxford  gallery getting a mention in the East Anglian Times: ‘seldom have I seen such exquisite little paintings with so much detail….’ 
She married again in her 60’s [in Suffolk to George A Fisher in 1977] (at some point she reverted to using her maiden name) and when married became Sheila Greenhalgh Fisher, all her later pictures are signed SGF.
The highly detailed picture of birds and flowers etc continued to be her main source of inspiration, and if not drawn from life, there were always specimens in the freezer, frequently posted by friends who thought she would be interested.
In 1996 she collaborated in the publication of Life Histories (Puffin Book 116) by Paxton Chadwick.  The book was published posthumously and I am not sure if Sheila added drawings or finished drawings, the information is sketchy*.

Puffin Final
 She held exhibitions at her cottage, and latterly started to paint on board in a slightly more abstract way but still in detail of flowers etc.  She was a founding member of the Laxfield Museum and even designed the village sign.
She died in May 2014, aged 96 able to remain in her much loved cottage and is buried in the cemetery at Laxfield.
Of interest to you perhaps is that the drawings for Foreign Birds, were taken from life at London Zoo, she also did work (I believe) for either the Natural History Museum or the British Museum, not absolutely sure which.
As I say probably far too much information, but I am still putting bits together, trying to put some facts to vaguely membered childhood recollection. You don’t realise when you are young just what interesting lives some people are leading.

She provided both black-and-white drawings for Soderberg’s books as well as colour plates. The book jacket states:

A special feature of the other three books, dealing with specific birds, is the series of lovely colour plates, reproduced by six-colour lithography, drawn by Sheila Dorrell, of the birds described in the text.

Here is one of the drawings and one of the colour plates from the volume on waxbills, weavers and whydahs:




*Life Histories was not completed by Paxton Chadwick before he died. Sheila by-then Fisher completed it for Chadwick’s widow. It was published by the Penguin Collectors Society in March 1996 as a limited edition of 100 copies along with a booklet explaining why it had not been published earlier; this limited edition was printed in 1995. Sheila Fisher’s signature is on the back cover which also shows stages in the development of a frog.


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