Object Stories: Mary Dudley Short’s Christmas Cards

This understated and yet exquisite set of Christmas cards are the work of a lesser known wood engraver who produced illustrations for our very own St Dominic’s Press, and was centre stage in our 2015 exhibition ‘Women Wood Engravers: Discovering Mary Dudley Short’.

Our research on her life was bafflingly difficult at first until we found out that she was christened Laura and when she got married she became known as Molly Freeman. Born in 1895, Mary (as she was known by the St Dominic’s Press) was trained at Reading School of Art by Professor Allen Seaby; here she was one of only two students to win a First Diploma – one of the external examiners being the esteemed WR Lethaby. Mary went on to the Central School of Arts and Crafts to be taught by Noel Rooke and Claude Flight. In 1930 she exhibited at the Redfern Gallery as part of the annual exhibition of the Society of Wood Engravers alongside contemporaries Trisha Garwood and Clare Leighton. Fittingly the elusive Mary’s work was entitled ‘Forget Me Not’.

Mary and her husband Percy Freeman were great champions and collectors of British modernist artists, and in 1959 the couple gifted £1000 to Tate Gallery which was used to set up the Friends of Tate Gallery. On her death she bequeathed £65,000 to The Ashmolean to promote 20th century British art, as well as paintings by the likes of Ivon Hitchens and Keith Vaughan.