From floating gallery to saving wildlife for Doncaster artist

As a child in the 1940s, Sheila Bury failed her 11 plus - the exam which decided if youngsters would go to grammar school.

Tuesday, 14th August 2018, 8:55 am
Sheila Bury, of Sprotbrough, is the artist in residence at Potteric Carr Nature Reserve, in Doncaster. Picture: David Kessen

But after she took an art technical exam, she won a place at the junior art department of Nottingham College.

After leaving education she went on to work for the textiles firm Viyella in Nottingham. With her art skills, she had hoped to work in the design room, but she was just given odd jobs.

Local artist, Sheila Bury, is pictured aboard her narrowboat 'Sprotbro' Painter' with husband Michael Bury in November 1990

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

So she left the firm and at the age of 18 started work at Newstead Sanitorium - a TB nursing hospital near Mansfield.

She initially moved into nursing because she thought it would be a way into becoming and officer in the Wrens - the Women's Royal Naval Service - but when she started the job in the 1950s she forgot all about that, and went on to become a psychiatric nurse.

When she got married to husband Michael Bury, she moved to Doncaster. He was an engineer for English Electric, and worked on power stations. Doncaster was a central location for him to base himself and go out to his jobs.

They bought a house on Tickhill Road, and Sheila got a job as a ward sister at St Catherine's Hospital in Balby. While she worked there, she made the most of her art training and painted pictures on the walls next to the beds for the children.

It was a mental hospital at the time and Shiela was in charge of the children's ward.

The couple's lives changed when Michael was offered a job in Canada, and moved to work there for a while, before moving back to Doncaster in 1968 to have their first child, Andrew.

They were soon on the move again, heading to Saudi Arabia, again through Michael's work. While they were out there they bought a Lotus Elan sports car so that they could drive back to England in it, although they soon sold that for a more family friendly VW camper van.

Returning home to Doncaster again, they bought a house in Sprotbrough, near the River Don - and with the move, they bought a boat.

"I had always fancied a boat," said Sheila. "We decided to have one. My husband got an engine for it from a dustcart, and we had a narrowboat built. It was delivered to Gas Bight, near the college is now. I sailed it from there to Sprotbrough, to have it moored there.

"We got ballast for the boat from Doncaster Council - it was made from old high street paving stones.

"I had started painting again, and the boat became my gallery and my studio. We called it the Sprotbrough Painter. My husband by then had given up his job, so we ran it as a business. I painted, and he framed them. That was for 12 years.

"Sadly, because of his work in the power stations, where there had been asbestos present, Michael developed asbestosis. He died in 2004.

"We decided to sell the boat before he died."

Sheila continued to sell paintings, often from the shops in Sprotbrough village, and held exhibitions in her garden. She used to go out with her easel until 2008, when she had her knees replaced. Since then she has more often taken pictures and rough sketches, doing her painting from from those.

Then in 2011, she discovered Potteric Carr nature reserve during a trip to the nearby B&Q at Doncaster Carr.

"I went over and took some photos," she said. "I did three or four paintings and had them up at Doncaster Tourists Information Centre. The people from Potteric Carr saw them, and as a result started putting them up in the shop in exchange for a donation. Then in May 2012, I became the volunteer artist in residence.

"I paint subjects that I'm interested in at the reserve. In 2013, I did four paintings, to represent the four seasons, and they raised money to have some eels introduced to the reserve.

Her latest project is seeing her back a conservation scheme called Back from the Brink. It involves doing paintings of rare birds which will be on show at the RSPB's Old Moor site in the Dearne Valley near Wombwell.

Money raised will go the Back from the Brink project.