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Kathleen Trousdell Shaw, sculptor (1865-1958)

Hugh Dominic WStiles26 April 2019

Kathleen Trousdell Shaw was born in Edmonton, Middlesex, in 1865, daughter of a doctor Alfred Shaw, who was at the time working in London.  According to her the Silent World article, she was brought up in Ireland, where the family was from, when she was a child.  The story related in that article, is that when she was nine she was ‘enthralled’ watching a stonemason carve the lettering for her grandmother’s tombstone in the churchyard (where it does not say), and the mason gave her some stone and two chisels so that she could try carving herself.  Her talent was sufficiently remarkable that she was sent to Dublin Art School aged ten. The article on her from Freeman’s Journal, says, “There is a gruesome poetry about the picture, a tiny soft-lipped child stands by and gravely watches a man engaged upon work of the significance of which she is utterly unconscious.”

She gained medals and prizes and when fifteen years old managed to collect £25 with which she went to Paris and joined her elder sister in a tiny flat in the Quartier Latin. To her great joy she was accepted as a student at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, where there were no fees, and where she could study under the most eminent French artists and sculptors.

At seventeen she returned to Dublin where she did a few portrait busts, including one of Prince Edward of Saxe-Weimar, but before long she was travelling again, having won a scholar-ship of £200 for two years. This enabled her to carry out her ambition of going to Rome where she attended the studio of M. Charles Desvergne and led a pleasant life among the artists and critics, besides meeting young people of her own age at parties and dances.

[…] From the age of thirty she was stone deaf. She returned for a time to London, and worked in Julian’s studio and in the British Museum, when she got the chance of going to Athens with her friend, Miss Venning.* They went in a French ship and she made a medallion portrait of the French captain which delighted the sailors. ‘C’est lui-meme,’ they said, ‘It is he himself’.

In Athens the British Ambassador befriended them and used to take them out in his yacht to visit some of the beautiful islands, and Miss Shaw did several portraits of diplomats and some of lovely Greek children. When she returned to England she lived for a time at Knutsford in Cheshire, doing portrait busts both in bronze and marble and exhibiting in the Royal Academy. One of the Duchess of Buckingham in marble was specially admired. Later in London she made busts of Lord Avebury, the beautiful Countess Annesley and many distinguished people, which were exhibited at the Royal Academy and in the Paris Salon. […]

Her work was recognized and honoured when she was made a Member of the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1907. She was the first woman sculptor to be made a member of any Royal Academy in the British Isles. (James, p.266-7)

According to the 1901 census, Shaw saw at that time living in York Street Chamber, Marylebone, a near neighbour being Rosamond Venning.  These chambers were “The York Street Chambers were built in 1892 to house single professional women and the tenants were principally artists, authors, nurses.”  It would possibly be useful to anyone trying to uncover more about Shaw, to have a look at what records survive – it might for example tell us how long she was there.

It seems that Venning was involved in the suffrage movement as can be seen from a letter in the Women’s Library Archive.  By the time of the 1911 census, they were living together in 13 Belsize Park Gardens, and Shaw is described as Venning’s adopted daughter.  Their friendship must have begun much earlier, for the article says ‘until she was thirty she could just hear the voices of two people, her mother and her friend Miss Rosamund [sic] Venning’ (p.266).  As she made a relief of Venning in 1892, they must have been acquainted at least no later than that.

She lived with Rosamond at Pitt Cottage, Cadmore End, Buckinghamshire, in the 1920s, during which period she lost her sight, and when Rosamond died she left her estate to Kathleen.

Kathleen Shaw died on the 30th of June, 1958, in Amersham Hospital.

Among her work is the bust of Archbishop Alexander, husband of the Deaf hymn-writer, Fanny Alexander, in Armagh Cathedral, and the Armagh war memorial.  A war memorial font cover in Cadmore Church, with a silver figure, was made with gifts of silver from villagers. Also, she made a monument to two Venning ancestors at Totnes.

How tragic that blindness cut short her career.

This reference gives a long list of here work –

‘Miss Kathleen Trousdell Shaw’, Mapping the Practice and Profession of Sculpture in Britain and Ireland 1851-1951, University of Glasgow History of Art and HATII, online database 2011 

*Venning seems to have been an antiquarian – see https://archive.org/stream/annualreportamern115amer/annualreportamern115amer_djvu.txt and also https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Page:Folk-lore_-_A_Quarterly_Review._Volume_5,_1894.djvu/366.

James, The Honorable Mrs. B.R., Kathleen Trousdell Shaw, Silent World, 1954, p.266-7

1901 Census – Class: RG13; Piece: 111; Folio: 158; Page: 39

1911 Census – Class: RG14; Piece: 609

Ancestry.com. Ireland, Select Marriages, 1619-1898 [database on-line]. 

Freeman’s Journal – Tuesday 01 May 1894, p.6 

Pall Mall Gazette – Saturday 06 April 1895, p.3

Villagers Humble Gifts, Yorkshire Evening Post – Saturday 24 April 1920 p. 6 

Western Times – Monday 14 April 1902, p.2

Robert Smithdas, American deaf-blind poet -“Blindness takes you away from scenes. But deafness takes you away from people.”

Hugh Dominic WStiles7 December 2018

Robert J. Smithdas was the first deaf-blind person to gain a master’s degree when he graduated from New York’s St. John’s University in 1953.  Born in 1925, Smithdas caught cerebro-spinal meningitis aged four and a half, and lost hearing and sight as a result.   He became director of Services for the Deaf-Blind at the “Industrial Home for the Blind,” and at the Helen Keller National Center.

We have a signed copy of his poetry book, City of the Heart (1966).  In the preface he says,

I composed these poems because my heart sang them to me over the years – because poignant moods, or powerful emotions, made me crystallize my thoughts and feelings into verbal expressions.  Sometimes inspiration was so spontaneous that the words came flooding into my consciousness and shaped themselves into song; but far more frequently I found myself searching through the labyrinthine meanings of language to find the most convincing words , and the most plausible rhythms, to serve as crucibles for my themes.  Yet I always knew the intrinsic essence of the thing I wanted to express in a sonnet, or a lyric, or the nobler passion of blank verse.

This is a clip from an interview theat Barbara Walters did with Bob Smithdas.

Barbara Walters: The lives of the deaf-blind have changed remarkably since the era of Helen Keller. She was never able to live by herself without sighted help, never able to be independent.

Bob: And today, it’s a tremendous difference, we can communicate, we can cook, we can go out and it is a wonderful type of progress

Barbara Walters: In spite of the good things Bob, what is the hardest part of be being deaf and blind?  What is the most frustrating?

Bob: At this stage of life, I am very used to being deaf blind, but I will admit that I miss not being able to see my friends’ faces or hearing their voices. Remember deafness takes you away from sound, from music. Blindness takes you away from scenes. But deafness takes you away from people.

Robert Smithdas died in 2014.

His poetry book, Christmas Blessing and Other Poems, (1959) is available on Archive.org

“Gently the snowflakes fall

Fragile and thin and light…”

https://nationaldb.org/pages/show/in-memoriam-robert-j-smithdas-advocate-for-the-deaf-blind

The photo of him above is the same as that at the back of the poetry book.  Unfortunately, when an external contractor tagged all of our books, the #### people doing the task were so slap-dash that they place the tag neatly over the photograph.

Please note, the chief U.K. deaf-blind charity is Sense.

“I took to going off for long tramps by myself over the fields and the beech-clad hills” – Frieda Le Pla, deaf-blind author

Hugh Dominic WStiles5 May 2017

le plaFrieda Le Pla, (or more correctly Winifred Jessie Le Pla) was born on November the 14th, 1892 in London (see Cripps, 1987, for most of what follows).  Her Dublin born father, Matthew, was of Huguenot descent.  He was a congregationalist minister.  Her mother, who was his second wife, was born in Exeter of Scottish descent.  When she was nearly nine the family moved from Amhurst Rd, Dalston, to Eynsford in Kent, and not long after they went to live in Ealing.  In spring 1904 the family moved to Theale in Berkshire.  There was, Cripps tells us, no suitable local school, so Winifred – Frieda – and her sisters Lillie and Rose were taught by her father in the mornings then were free to wander the local countryside for the remainder of the day.  Her father was it seems rather forward thinking in his theology, and his support for controversial preachers meant that he lost his position, so the family moved again to Beckenham near Gainsborough for six months, then after only six months, they moved on to Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire.

In her book about her experiences, Glimpses into a hidden world,  which is not fully autobiographical but also discusses deaf-blindness more generally and also has contributions by others, Frieda said,

My first period of blindness came when I was about four years old, due to inflammation of the eyes; but it lasted only a few months, and I have no recollection of it myself.  Neither did its effects – a greatly reduced amount of sight in the left eye, and short-sightedness in the right – obtrude themselves on my notice during my childhood, which in the main was a happy one […].  It was not until I was almost twenty-one that inflammation attacked the eyes for the second time, and that the first signs of deafness appeared.
By this time I already had several pupils both for school subjects and music – I had started teaching music when I was sixteen: I was also a teacher in the Sunday-school, and was in the choir of the Beaconsfield Congregational Church, of which my father was Minister, and my mother the organist.  I had also started to learn the organ, with my mother as teacher: and I was in the thick of enthusiastic activities for such movements as the Women’s Suffrage, the campaign against vivisection and other forms of cruelty to animals, and so on.  This was in the autumn of 1913. (Glimpses into a hidden world, p.3)

By 1916 Frieda had to give up teaching, and by 1922 her blindness became ‘total’, although she was able to

see good print and also, of course, go about alone; so I took to going off for long tramps by myself over the fields and the beech-clad hills, with a note-book and a pencil in my pocket in order to jot down ideas for stories, and any notes about the wild folk and plants observed during these expeditions.  The fluctuating character of my hearing made me nervous about meeting humans  lest I should not be able to hear what they said if they spoke to me – another reason for preferring the more unfrequented woods and fields rather than the regions inhabited by humans.

Frieda set about learning Braille, and so was able to work as a writer.  Her big problem was correcting manuscripts, and she tells us that even having had manuscripts checked, some errors still crept in.

After her mother died in 1933, she was fortunate that a friend of hers, Dorothy Wells, a young teacher, became her companion in 1934.  Dorothy had entered an Anglican convent but was not happy there, and seems to have welcomed the chance to help Frieda.  She was to be her support and friend for the next forty-five years (Cripps, p.6).

La PlaFrieda died in March, 1978, after a short illness.  Dorothy survived her, dying on the 15th of June, 1980.  If you read through old copies on the British Deaf Times you will come across a number of her articles, particularly in the 1940s.

Cripps, Vera E., Frieda and Dorothy, a Story of Courage and Devotion (1987)

Abrahams, Pat, Light out of Darkness, Hearing 1971, 26 137-9

Deaf-blind authoress. British Deaf Times, 1932, Nov-Dec, p.127

Le Pla, Frieda, Glimpses into a hidden world, 1949.

1901 Census – Class: RG13; Piece: 216; Folio: 53; Page: 33

1911 Census – Class: RG14; Piece: 7811; Schedule Number: 152

On the unreliability of printed sources – Hannah Pouncey, Deaf and Blind (ca 1832-1913)

Hugh Dominic WStiles31 March 2017

A while ago I came across a photograph in Ephphatha, the magazine for the missioners to the deaf, edited by W.W. Adamson, A. Macdonald Cuttell and Fred Gilby.  The photograph illustrated here, is of one ‘Hannah Pountney’.  I searched for Hannah high and low, thinking maybe someone had incorrectly transcribed her name in the online family history and census records.  Hannah was proving impossible to track down – until I had the assistance of our top historian friend, @DeafHeritageUK, Norma McGilp.  Unfortunately an error occurred when someone wrote the item that included Hannah’s name, and the fact that she was to get a pension of £10 from the British Deaf and Dumb Association.  Her real name was  Hannah Pouncey (ca. 1832-1913).  I suppose that someone not at the B.D.D.A. meeting when the pension was approved, misread the handwriting of someone who had attended.  The B.D.D.A. minutes say she was, “a deaf and dumb woman, and almost blind, aged 62, named Hannah Pouncey, and residing at Bedale for whom £8.8.0 had already been collected by her relations.”*

Hannah was born in Ripon, in the North Riding of Yorkshire, and died in Crakehall, Bedale which is not too far north of there.  Her parents were George (b. ca. 1802) and Mary (b. ca. 1802), both born in Ripon.  George was a tailor and one of his sons, Thomas (b. ca 1835 in Leeds), was apprenticed to him.  In 1851 they were living in ‘Middle Street’ which seems to have disappeared or changed name, but must be adjacent to Queen Street.  By the 1871 census they had moved to ‘Fairfield Villa’ and George was described as a woollen draper.  Does that mean he was going up in the world?  On that census there is no mention of deafness next to Hannah’s name.  That information relied on both assiduous enumerators and the co-operation of the head of the household, or whoever took their place if they were out.  Hannah was, according to the 1901 census, ‘deaf and dumb from childhood.’  The 1881 census did not note any deafness – but some people would think it a stigma, so reporting of deafness in census returns is not consistent.

As far as I am aware Hannah lived an anonymous and ordinary life, dying in 1913.

As with others previously covered in this blog, I think it is important to commemorate the lives of ordinary people, as well as the clever, successful and influential.  They are all part of the same picture.

Hannah Pouncey

*for which we are indebted again to Norma McGilp.

1851 Census – Class: HO107; Piece: 2281; Folio: 207; Page: 17; GSU roll: 87466-87467

1861 Census – Class: RG 9; Piece: 3196; Folio: 50; Page: 14; GSU roll: 543094

1871 Census – Class: RG10; Piece: 4276; Page: 12; GSU roll: 846969

1881 Census – Class: RG11; Piece: 4318; Folio: 24; Page: 3; GSU roll: 1342030

1901 Census – Class: RG13; Piece: 4598; Folio: 33; Page: 7

1911 Census – Class: RG14; Piece: 29386