Sunday, 11 June 2017

Review: Mary Lobb from Cornwall to Kelmscott: A Life Revealed

You no doubt remember that a couple of weeks ago I did my post on Miss Mary Lobb. As a consequence, I had the pleasure of talking to the splendid people at Kelmscott and Simon Evans from the National Library of Wales about their new exhibition, Mary Lobb from Cornwall to Kelmscott: A Life Revealed.  Stop in the name of Lobb!

This is unsurprisingly the first exhibition on Miss Lobb considering the bad press she had received over the years.  It is an absolute delight that she is getting the reassessment she so richly deserved. This all stemmed from an incredible discovery of the archive at the National Library of Wales of the many items that had arrived when Miss Lobb died.  Not only were there personal items from the Lobb family but also many revealing items relating to Kelmscott, her home for over 20 years...

Kelmscott Manor
I think the problem has previously been that all that was known of Miss Lobb is almost entirely connected to May, so it was hard to see her beyond that two-dimensional lesbian-lady-in-sensible-shoes that has made her the butt of jokes.  What this exhibition succeeds in doing is showing Mary before May, the unstoppable Miss Lobb, large-locomotive-loving, steam-roller-driving, dog-cuddling powerhouse. A big, powerful, confident woman who takes no nonsense from anyone?  Miss Lobb, your time has come!

May and Mary, a dynamic duo
By showing us more layers of Lobb, it is easier to get a more complete picture of the woman who turned May Morris' life around.  An utter revelation is a small oil painting by Miss Lobb, a modernist sunset reminiscent of Paul Nash.  These are juxtaposed with May Morris' own watercolours, showing how chalk-and-cheese the pair were but somehow they worked together.

Camping with Mary and May
Much is made of their travels; rough camping in the middle of nowhere, their 'flat' in Reykavik, photographs of the pair smiling in front of their tent. Compare those photos with images at the end of Jane Morris' life, with May sat on the floor at her mother's feet, subdued, and you can see how much of a difference Miss Lobb made.  There are photos of their friends, their goats, their little trap.  The animals that seem to populate Kelmscott in the 1920s must have come in with Miss Lobb who cared so much for her horses she patented shoe coverings that protected the hoof from debris.  I'm a great believer in the life-affirming joy animals bring to life (speaking as someone with a front room filled with chicks I hatched at Easter) and Miss Lobb seems to agree with me.  One of my favourite photographs is Mary and May showing off their goats, which is about as far from the rather studious, overshadowed, unlucky-in-love Mary Morris as it is possible to get.

Miss Lobb and friends (both two- and four-legged)
This is both an important and fascinating exhibition and I thoroughly urge you to go and see it this summer.  Miss Lobb has for too long been seen as May's folly, a cartoon, manish brute of a woman, swearing, drinking and brandishing a gun at anyone who came to near to her beloved May.  What is revealed is this funny, caring, uncompromising woman who loved May and made her life worth living.  Once you understand how much these two women brought to each other's lives you'll never see Kelmscott as a place of melancholy and thwarted love again.  All I am saying is give Lobb a chance...

To learn more, visit Kelmscott's page for their exhibition here.


  1. Interesting often wondered what became of Jenny and May, I think Rossetti had fallen in love with May in an innocent sort of way.


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