MELLIS, Margaret Nairne

1914 - 2009

Margaret Mellis

Born Margaret Mellis-Smith at Wu-Kung-Fu, China on 22 January 1914, daughter of David Barclay Mellis-Smith (1876-1951), a Presbyterian missionary, and his wife Margaret Blaikie née Mackenzie, they seem to have dropped the hyphenated surname of Smith. Margaret spent her first birthday on the boat returning the family to their native Scotland five months after the outbreak of the first world war, her father was later minister of Arngask Parish Church, Glenfarg, Scotland. At the age of 15, Margaret entered Edinburgh College of Art where her teachers included the Scottish colourist Samuel John Peploe (1871-1935), and fellow students included William Gear (1915-1997) and Wilhelmina Barns-Graham (1912-2004). On a scholarship she went to Paris to train with André Lhote (1871-1935) and when she returned to Paris for a Cézanne exhibition in 1936, she met Adrian Durham Stokes (1902-1972), an established art theorist and emergent painter, and they married two years later, they had one son. Margaret and Adrian sought a coastal refuge from the expected bombing of London and found a home at Carbis Bay, near St Ives, Cornwall and in August 1939 they were joined by Ben Nicholson (1894-1982) and Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975), the constructivist Naum Gabo (Naum Neemia Pevsner 1890-1977) and his wife, Miriam, followed shortly afterwards. Margaret was encouraged by Nicholson and Gabo to produce small abstract compositions-springboards to all her daring works of the future. However it was not long before her husband's attentions shifted to her sister, Ann and in 1946 the marriage ended. Patrick and Delia Heron came to stay with them and invited along a lately divorced school friend of Patrick's, Francis Davison [q.v.] and Margaret and Francis married in 1948 and were seldom parted thereafter. Margaret and Francis, together with Telfer, travelled to the French Riviera and camped in the Davison chateau on the Cap d'Antibes, and on returning to England in 1950, borrowed a fisherman's shack at Walberswick, Suffolk where both artists journeyed into abstraction along personal but parallel routes. Soon a legacy paid for a cottage and four-acre smallholding at Church Farm Cottage, Syleham, Suffolk where, for the next twenty-five years, they thrived by selling eggs and chickens, growing barley and the herbs, fruit and vegetables of a French-style kitchen garden. The artists had produced a mass of mostly unseen work and when Margaret's rheumatoid arthritis made life difficult, in 1976 they moved to Southwold, Suffolk. By 1978 she had turned from painting to driftwood constructions, combining beachcomber finds of vividly coloured bits of boats and beach-huts, kippering boards and medieval timbers gouged by deathwatch beetles into honeycomb, producing relief sculptures of wit and verve, soaring angels, dipping boats, surging seas. Francis worked in a frenzy on ever-brighter and more complex collages began to ail with the brain tumour that killed him in 1984. Margaret worked on in Southwold and in 1986 received a card from a would-be art student, Damien Hirst, who had 'been blown away' by her constructions and Francis's collages. He visited and they swam, walked and worked together. She died on 17 March 2009 and was survived by her son, Telfer Stokes [q.v.], three grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.




Works by This Painter