Biggar exhibition celebrates work of Ivy Wallace

An author and artist who made Biggar her home for 50 years will take centre stage at the town’s museum this weekend.
Ivy Wallace's books were a huge hit, both originally and when they were re-published.Ivy Wallace's books were a huge hit, both originally and when they were re-published.
Ivy Wallace's books were a huge hit, both originally and when they were re-published.

Biggar and Upper Clydesdale Museum is delighted to host an exhibition of the life and work of Ivy Wallace, author, artist and creator of Pookie and The Animal Shelf series of children’s books.

Sharon Bradley, Biggar Museum Trust director, said: “The exhibition had been scheduled for April 2020 but had to be cancelled as the country went in to lockdown.

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“Ivy lived in Biggar for over 50 years so it is very fitting that the exhibition is being held in her home town.

Ivy and William married in 1950.Ivy and William married in 1950.
Ivy and William married in 1950.

“The Path to Bluebell Wood opens on Good Friday, April 15 and runs until Sunday, May 22.”

Ivy Lillian Wallace was born in Grimsby in 1915, the daughter of a Scottish doctor. Her love of nature was formed in early childhood when she accompanied her father on outings into the bluebell woods and flower-filled meadows of the Lincolnshire countryside.

Her father, a keen amateur botanist and entomologist, encouraged her to draw and paint plants in a botanically accurate way.

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Showing a lively imagination, Ivy started writing stories and drawing pictures, encouraged by her parents who recognised her talents and thought that she might become an artist.

Whilst attending Harrogate Ladies College, Ivy became well known for her drawings and playful poems.

However, after leaving college she became a successful actress with Felixstowe Repertory Theatre and Hull New Theatre Company.

As the Second World War broke out, she joined the British film industry to make Ministry of Information films.

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During the war, she joined the police and, while working long hours on a switchboard, she happened to doodle a picture of a fairy sitting on a toadstool with a little rabbit in front.

By chance it appeared that the fairy’s wings belonged to the rabbit. Ivy thought that fairies were “two a penny” so erased the fairy and kept the little winged rabbit. She named him Pookie because “he had a little pookie face”. She wrote his story and illustrated it with delicate watercolour pictures.

It began “This is the story of Pookie, a little white furry rabbit, with soft, floppity ears, big blue eyes and the most lovable rabbit smile in the world.”

In 1945, just after war ended, encouraged by friends to find a publisher, she visited William Collins and Sons in London without an appointment. She was disappointed to be turned away but was asked to leave her manuscript.

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A few weeks later, she was contacted by William Hope Collins and asked to attend the Glasgow office where the children’s books section was based.

Sharon takes up the story: “Borrowing some money from her brother to buy a new dress and a big hat to make her appear more serious, she took the train north to Glasgow.

“She met with William Hope Collins in the now demolished Cathedral Street offices and not only did William accept the book, he also fell in love with its author.

“In 1950 Ivy and William married and came to live near Biggar.”

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For over 20 years, Ivy’s beautifully illustrated books became a publishing phenomenon and were worldwide bestsellers. They were translated into several languages and Pookie was read as far afield as Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa. The stories were broadcast in Australia in Pookie’s Half-Hour and thousands of children attended Pookie rallies.

Ivy also enjoyed a successful career as a writer-illustrator for Wm Collins and Sons and for other international publishers.

Ivy founded her own company Pookie Productions Ltd. In all she wrote ten Pookie books, as well as the best-selling Animal Shelf series for younger children and The Young Warrenders series for older ones.

In 1967, Ivy’s husband died suddenly leaving her heartbroken. She closed her studio, too consumed with grief to continue something that had meant so much to them both.

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Sharon added: “Eventually in 1994, spurred on by decades of letters and pleas from fans, Ivy and her daughters relaunched Pookie Productions Ltd and republished her books, which once again became international bestsellers.

“The Animal Shelf, animated by award-winning Cosgrove Hall Films, was a Children’s BAFTA-nominated TV series on CITV, running to 52 episodes and broadcast in over 50 countries.”

When she was 85, Ivy eventually retired and enjoyed spending time with her family and dogs and tending her beloved garden.

She remained at home near Biggar until 2002 when she moved to Auchlochan Garden Village where she died peacefully in 2006 at the age of 90.

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Biggar Museum Trust is delighted to be able to celebrate Ivy’s life and work, now that the pandemic restrictions are finally being lifted.

The Path to Bluebell Wood exhibition opens in the museum this Friday (April 15) and will run until Sunday, May 22. For all Pookie fans, it’s a must!

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