Modest Mavis presents a masterful art exhibition

Claire Varley and her mum Mavis Mallinson with art exhibition at Dean Clough, Halifax.
Claire Varley and her mum Mavis Mallinson with art exhibition at Dean Clough, Halifax.

Mavis Mallinson has always met life’s challenges head on.

She joined the police force in the 1950s as a teenager, which was an unusual career choice for women at that time.

After her son Graham was killed in a road accident aged 19, she tried to adopt but was told she was too old at 44.

Three years later, she gave birth to a daughter.

Now Mavis, 77, is fighting her latest battle - against the rare cancer mesothelioma, caused by her contact with asbestos dust and fibres when she worked at Acre Mill, Old Town, in the 1960s.

Despite being given just six months to live in August last year, Mavis is pressing ahead with plans to stage her first public art exhibition at one of Calderdale’s most renowned galleries.

Her daughter, Claire Varley, contacted Vic Allen, arts director at Dean Clough, Halifax, to see if the gallery would exhibit some of Mavis’s work, which includes portraits of female family members - she has eight sisters and two brothers - and her interpretations of well-known portraits by the great painters, including Girl with a Pearl Earring by Jan Vermeer and Leonardo da Vinci’s Lady with an Ermine.

He agreed and the exhibition will be staged from Wednesday, April 24 to May 1. Everyone is welcome to call in and view it.

In the 1960s Mavis had worked for three years at Cape Asbestos, Acre Mill, Old Town, Hebden Bridge, testing yarn for moisture content in its laboratory.

And, like many others, she inhaled asbestos dust and fibres which led to her developing cancer of the lining of the lung, for which there is no cure.

Mavis was born in Hebden Bridge, lived in Cragg Vale as a child and later lived in Hebden Bridge and Mytholmroyd before moving to Sowerby Bridge 30 years ago with her husband Peter, to whom she has been married for 55 years.

She works in oils, pastels, watercolours and chalk, but said she never picked up a brush again after going to London two years ago to see the Leonardo exhibition. “I can tell a good painting when I see it now,” she said.

Mavis attends Huddersfield Royal Infirmary every couple of months, where doctors have said the disease is now stable. She does not feel resentful about her situation and remembers Acre Mill being a “brilliant” place to work.

She said: “I am very fortunate that I got to 76 before I found out I had got it. I have had two lots of chemotherapy but I have always done yoga and swimming and I’m thinking positive.

“I have had a very full life and if I drop off the conveyor belt I cannot complain.”