Mabel Dearmer’s life was as unusual and striking as her pictures: she was born Jessie Mabel Prichard White in 1872, and was a novelist, playwright, translator and illustrator. She was the wife of the Rev. Percy Dearmer (1867-1936), a liturgist and historian of Christian worship, and the mother of the WW1 poet Geoffrey Dearmer (1893–1996).
Mabel Dearmer first meant to be an actress but abandoned this career because “They did not think me pretty enough.” She also studied art and wrote a small number of novels but her greatest successes were in her illustrations and plays. Her illustrations are instantly recognisable for her use of bright, eye-catching blocks of colour and simple yet imaginative designs. She first experimented with poster-art and moved on to book illustration, maintaining the poster style for many of her pictures. Despite their detail, they can be taken in with a glance and, much like posters, make a vivid and lasting impression on the viewer.
Great energy seems to have suffused any project into which she threw herself; nothing she did was done half-heartedly. In her role as a vicar’s wife, she made it her business to know her husband’s Hampstead parishioners, and, much like Anne of Green Gables, was always able to recognise ‘kindred spirits.’
In spite of her failure to become an actress, she remained heavily involved with the theatre and wrote and produced a great number of plays. In a letter, George Bernard Shaw wrote: “You are one of the few people living who can write plays.” People in the business thought she might one day have her own theatre; with her “combination of tact with driving power” this might have been possible had the war not intervened. She even had a side-line in buying and then leasing theatrical costumes. They were kept in one of the houses that she owned, managed and let out to tenants.