A convention-breaking Victorian woman from Barrow, whose art and adventures came to light during lockdown, is to have her story exhibited in her home town after a Facebook group helped to uncover her inspiring life.
Mary Pratt, known as Minnie, was a Barrovian woman who travelled the world and painted works of art based on the places she visited as well as the area in which she lived.
Following a year and a half of research, her story and artwork is now set to be shared for the first time at a special exhibition at The Dock Museum, one of Barrow’s most popular attractions.
The story began to unfold when Cumbrian resident Gary Johnson went to an auction in Carlisle looking for a chair for his mother. However, his eye was drawn to Minnie’s scrapbook, which was filled with postcards from all over the world and beautiful watercolour paintings. Gary set up a Facebook group, called Minnie’s Scrapbook, in the hope of finding out more information. The group quickly grew and now has over one thousand members worldwide.
Gary Johnson, a 65-year-old retired TV producer, said: “It’s like it was meant to be. I saw this book at the auction house and it’s not something that usually would have caught my eye, but I just had a feeling about it. And that’s what started me on this journey.
“From the community we have built online, I have been in touch with some of Minnie’s distant relatives. It’s been a wonderful experience, and I’m now writing a book about my experience.
“I’m really pleased that Minnie’s story and her artwork has been rediscovered and can be shared with her hometown. So many people have engaged with her story and have enjoyed helping me to find more of her art and the mystery behind who she was.
“I want to thank everyone who has engaged with me and helped out, especially the Facebook group which has grown into this amazing community who are all so invested in Minnie. Without them this wouldn’t have been possible.”
Minnie moved to Barrow as a very young child in the early 1880’s and died in Ulverston in 1980. She often travelled the world alone, something that was very rare for women at this time, supported by her progressive family. She was an art teacher for a number of years and never married or had children.
Charlotte Hawley, Collections and Exhibitions Manager at The Dock Museum, said: “Minnie’s story has really connected people from all over the world online. It’s wonderful to show her art and tell her story for the first time ever. We hope that it will draw interest from all over the world as it’s such an incredible story about this independent, amazing woman. It’s fair to say that whilst there were other women of her class taking similar paths, she was certainly unique in following her independence. And her art gives us an insight into local history too.
The exhibition, which has received financial support from BAE Systems Ltd, is made up of four parts:
- A film introducing Gary Johnson in which he explains how he discovered the scrapbook and began his journey researching her story
- All about Minnie – about her, about Barrow during the time period, her life and influences
- Minnie the artist and traveller – a display of her artwork inspired by her travels all over the world and pieces dedicated to Barrow and Cumbria
- Step into Minnie’s artwork – an interactive greenscreen area where you can put yourself into the artwork.
Councillor Tony Callister, Barrow Borough Council’s Lead Member for Arts, Culture and Leisure, said: “This piece of local history is such an incredible find and we are honoured to be able to exhibit the items at the Dock Museum in Barrow, a town that Minnie lived in for most of her life and that she so clearly loved.”
The exhibition opens to the public on Saturday 5th November at The Dock Museum, Barrow, with a preview held on the evening of Friday 4th November. It will run until 17th Feb 2023. For more information visit the Dock Museum website or follow them on social media. For the latest updates about Minnie’s Scrapbook and how you can be involved, follow the Facebook page.