Margaret Ada Tournor was born in Sutton, Surrey and educated at the Old Palace School, Croydon and later at St Anne’s College, Sanderstead. In 1939 she won a scholarship to Croydon School of Art but due to illness and the outbreak of World War II she was unable to complete her course. She painted in watercolour and oil but her great love and skill lay in wood engraving and she therefore decided to work as an illustrator in this medium. In 1942 her aunt introduced her to the editor of the Oxford University Press and over the next few years they employed her as a freelance illustrator working on a number of poetry and children’s books.
In 1943 she had joined the Roman Catholic Church and in 1952 she entered the then enclosed Society of the Scared Heart at Woldingham, becoming a nun in 1960. In this teaching order she was required to relinquish her art and engraving tools and devote herself to her religious life. After a time serving in the Society’s schools in Tunbridge Wells and Wandsworth she moved to Fenham near Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1971. It was not until 1984, when she retired to Blyth in Northumberland, that she was able to resume her engraving.
Over the next 20 years Sister Margaret produced nearly 500 blocks. She received commissions to illustrate at least 20 titles including Bible Birds (1996), Bible Trees (1997), Bible Plants (1999) and David Burnett’s Twelve Poems (1994), Goat’s Beard (1998) and Couples (1999). She became a celebrity in the artistic community of the North East where she regularly exhibited. In the last months of her life there were two exhibition of her work: the first in Nov-Dec 2002 at Durham University Library, the second, Jan 2003 Hampshire Inhabitants, at Westbury Manor Museum, in Fareham.
She made few if any preparatory drawings, preferring to work from a light pencil sketch making intricate and minute cuts directly onto the block. Being ambidextrous she engraved with her right hand and wrote with her left. Preferring to work on box wood blocks she also used other woods including sycamore, pear, lime and lemon and proofed her own blocks using a spoon as a burnisher. Her subjects were often the birds, plants, animals she knew as well as interpretations of passages from the Bible. Her great strength was in working in the miniature and her small and delicate engravings remind one of the pastoral and mystical works of Palmer, Blake, Calvert and early Sutherland.
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