Museum Highlight

Mollie Staley

Keeping with the theme of our Online Exhibition “Celebrating our Town – Discover Reading”, this Museum Highlight was painted in 1968 in the Newtown area, although the road gets its name from much longer ago. [Highlighted: Jan 2021]

Orts Road, Reading
by Mollie Staley (1924–2002)

Oil on canvas
72cm x 61cm
Date: 1968

RGA member 1974–1982
Reading Museum Accession Number
REDMG : 2005.27.1

Orts Road in the Newtown area of Reading runs just off King’s Road southeast of Reading Abbey. The area is shown on early maps as Orts Field, believed to have been let by the Abbey with proceeds dedicated to feeding the poor, “orts” being an old term for scraps of food left over from a meal.

Mollie Staley was born in London to Irish parents from Howth nr. Dublin. Having completed her higher school education during the war, her mother sent her to secretarial college, however, Mollie quietly enrolled part-time into the Chelsea Art School as well! She became a radar operator in the WRAF based on the coast in north Scotland and Cornwall, meeting her future husband while both were serving, in the RAF, they married in 1951. Following the war, she worked as a lab assistant in the Haematology and Biochemistry Dept. at St George’s Hospital, London.

In the late 60s early 70s, when her children were teenagers, she had more time and freedom to develop her creative side. She joined a weekly all-day adult painting class at Reading Technical College (later Reading College of Art) and was tutored by Derek Inwood (also a member of the Reading Guild of Artists). She painted extensively and it was at this time she painted her Orts Road series, a road which lies to the back of Reading Tech. She also painted landscapes, still lifes, and life studies.

Mollie and her husband were heavily involved with the Henley Arts and Crafts Guild (HACG) in the 1970s when the Guild used the Boat House (now the River and Rowing Museum) as an exhibition space. They were subsequently involved in the purchase of the Old Fire Station Gallery, Henley, which is still used today for HACG and RGA exhibitions. Mollie was a HACG committee member for many years with Joan Inwood and held the posts of Exhibition Secretary and Guild Secretary while her husband served as Treasurer and Chairman for a number of years.

The Mollie Staley Award was introduced in 2012 in her memory and is presented annually to the artist who had produced the best artwork in the Spring Exhibition, judged by an external selector each year.

Mollie was also a member of the Reading Guild of Artists, from 1974 – 1982, where she won the Marie Dyson Award in 1975 with Figure in Blue, and again in 1980.

Information was kindly provided by her daughter Jane, also an artist and member of the HACG.

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