W.H. Patterson Fine Art Catalogue 1981.

Foreword by Russell Harty.


Nearly all the world's most famous artists have had a precise geographical area from which they have drawn, literally, their inspiration. The Impressionists are forever pinned on to the map of Paris, near to Montmartre. The Dutch School collect in spare kitchens, or around a candle. The Florentines sprang from that elegant Tuscan landscape with tall cypress trees on the horizon and a walled town in the distance. Mrs. Bradley cultivated her own back garden, watered her early memories and reaped a rich, warm and funny harvest of pictorial stories.

Her single and outstanding characteristic, as an artist, is her power as a storyteller. Others of her contemporaries are, perhaps, better craftsmen, more skilful in the use of colour, more intellectually aware of form; but none can match that smiling charmer in sheer narrative drive. The canvas is an open book and she is there to entertain you with it. Her great enemy is boredom. Her great strength is the reliability she places upon her own experience, and the freedom she gains from dealing with a subject she knows backwards...her own backyard.

If God lives up in the moors, above Oldham, he will, being an ordinary sort of chap, only a little more powerful, need some sort of shelter. So she gives him a hut. When he wants to make it rain, he wouldn't be able to do that with a snap of his ecclesiastical fingers, would he? No, says the practical Helen Bradley; he, or maybe, He, would need a stop-tap. And how, pray, do you think the sun and moon hang in the sky, like decorations at a Christmas party? By chance! Dear me, no. By design! By God's and Helen's almighty hands, and by the use of a big safety pin. A safety pin in Helen's childhood would always be carried in her mother's handbag...Just in case. Just in case her daughter's vital elastic snapped before the party began, or, just in case God wanted to borrow it to pin up the moon in the sky. And if Mrs. Bradley feels impelled to sit you down, to put a cup of tea in your lap, and tell you the story of Jonah and the Whale, she can convince you of the truth and the accuracy of her account by localizing this mysterious religious event. The whale is not thrashing in the ocean. Jonah is not in stark pre-historic rags, with long biblical beard. Dear me, no, she says again. We must be more precise than that. The whale is caught in the ice of the lake in the local park; everybody goes out on Sunday afternoon to take a look at this phenomenon. In lots of her pictures the populace turns out to observe a current phenomenon, the King and Queen coming to Manchester, the holiday train leaving Bolton Station for Blackpool.

Everything is very well mannered, too. You doff you hat to Royalty, and, if Jonah has been stuck in the whale's body, on that frozen lake, he's going to want a cup of tea, isn't he? I mean, it's the least we can do. Everything recognizable! Everything right!

Mrs. Bradley never made any large claims, and never behaved like the original she was. A certain degree of parsimony prevailed in her private life. She didn't want pictures packing and crating and sending off to a London television studio for one of our frequent chats. No. She would bring a representative selection in a taxi. Wouldn't a taxi cost you rather a lot of money, though? Yes, I said, and well worth it.

To look at the bungalow in Wilmslow, where she lived with Tom and a cat, not a tomcat, you would not imagine that the rather ordinary house was an engine shed for a precise human dynamo. I often think that people who went out in considerable numbers to buy her books, prints of her pictures and, a privileged bunch, those who acquired her originals, would never have guessed what was going on in that little house if they'd been driving past. If they had been able to x-ray the lace curtains to see what lay beyond, they would have found a grey haired lady, with a twinkle and a comfortable bosom, using her nails to work the paint into tiles for the roof of a house in Inkerman or Balaclava Street. They might have heard her say to herself..."There isn't room on this canvas for all I have to say. So I'll paint the rest on the frame". They certainly wouldn't be able to hear her tell Tom, that yesterday she'd been back to London to do another television programme with that Mr. Harty and, when they'd finished, there were some sandwiches left over in the hospitality room, so she'd wrapped them up in some tin foil and brought them back for the cat's tea.

As they say in our part of Lancashire, "you were one of your own, Helen". You made a lot of people smile, as well. And I wish you hadn't gone and left us. I'll bet you had a big safety pin in your handbag.

Love Russell.