Written by Jennifer Graham, 2023
There is no more sensitive painter of Northern landscapes” were the words of Yorkshire Post Art Critic, W T Oliver when in the early 1960’s he recognised the talent of Birstall artist, Mary Lord. Born in 1931 Mary Lord grew up in her parents’ semi detached house, number 20 Leyland Road in Birstall. Although as an Artist she is known as Mary, locals knew her as Molly, few of us little realised that one of our neighbours was a talented artist, who one day would be internationally recognised for her paintings!
Molly attended St Peter’s C of E primary school then went to Princess Royal Secondary school, but after a year there she won a late scholarship to Batley Girls’ Grammar school.
Molly wasn’t particularly inspired by the art lessons whilst at BGGS and in the 50’s there was little scope for artists to make a decent living from their work, hence after leaving school Molly worked as a Junior Library Assistant in Batley Library in the 40’s/50’s. Whilst working in the library Molly studied at Batley Art College and later attended Leeds College of Art, 1950-3 under Richard Macdonald and Tommy Watt.
Molly then worked as a museum assistant at Bankfield Museum, Halifax, and continued to paint in her spare time, 1955-60.
Molly specialised in landscapes, painted in oils or watercolour, which were inspired from childhood when she went on outings into the Yorkshire Dales in the family car with her parents, William and Annie. Her father and grandfather were both amateur artists and no doubt encouraged Molly when art was nothing more than a hobby for her in the early days.
Her father had a home art studio and one of Molly’s well known paintings depicts this. It was in the late 50’s when her breakthrough came.
With her friends from Art College Molly started exhibiting her paintings locally, she also joined art groups throughout the area but didn’t actively promote her work. A show in Batley Art Gallery led to solo exhibitions in leading galleries around Yorkshire. From that early exhibition in Batley Art Gallery Molly’s paintings were exhibited in other galleries and it was in the early 1960’s that the comment by W T Oliver, Art Critic at the Yorkshire Post set her on the path to becoming more well known. Molly was almost embarrassed when she was asked to exhibit her paintings in a solo exhibition and admitted to being surprised when she sold her first painting.
In 1958 Molly gave birth to her daughter Rita and over the years combined caring for her daughter, and looking after her elderly parents, with teaching at Swarthmore Adult Education College and Leeds College of Art for almost 30 years. It wasn’t until 1991 that Molly had time to concentrate solely on her paintings, by which time she would be retired. Now the paintings by Mary Lord are on display in many leading galleries and others are sought after by private collectors.
A few years ago I visited Lotherton Hall where there was an exhibition of Mary Lord’s paintings. At first I had no idea that this talented artist was the young lady, Molly Lord, who I remembered from my childhood! I think Molly and her daughter moved to Leeds after losing her parents and I don’t know if she is still alive as she will now be in her 90’s. But Birstall should be very proud of her!
Credit: Jennifer Graham 2023