To look at the work of accomplished botanical artist Margaret (Meg) Bradford-Seeley, you could easily make the assumption that behind her watercolour brushstrokes lies a lifetime of artistic expression. However, Meg’s talent for drawing and painting remained undiscovered until her retirement from a stellar nursing career, for which she was recognised with an Order of Australia medal in 2018.
Meg’s career began in 1962 as a hospital nurse and midwife, before she branched out into serving remote Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory and Western Australia. During this time, she also qualified as a pilot and used her own plane to cover the vast distance between posts.
This roving job, plus a busy family life, saw Meg channel her creativity into more portable activities, such as patchwork and knitting, and it proved not just therapeutic for her, but also for her patients.
“I took a hexagon quilt I was making on a flight to pick up a young fellow in Exmouth with the bends. I kept saying to him, ‘Relax, all is well, we don’t have a problem,’ — but I couldn’t calm him down. In the end, I dragged the patchwork out. He looked at that and he looked at me and said, “Well if you’re going to do that, I must be alright!”
When it came to retirement, Meg knew that it wasn’t just the day-to-day tasks of working life she wanted to retire from, but also the peripatetic (travelling from place to place) nature of the job.
“I had to put roots down,” she explains. “The city just wasn’t doing it for me. I came into Bindoon and as soon as I went up the hill it was like coming home.”
Once settled, Meg was able to give attention to exploring new hobbies, which included drawing. Moora TAFE were running courses through the Bindoon Arts and Crafts Centre, so she enroled in those.
“The teacher kept saying to me, ‘You’ve done this before,’. But I hadn’t — I did have a go at China painting back in the 80’s. I remember being so proud of my first plate and I sent it off to my mother. The next time I visited her, I took one look at that plate and said, ‘I think we might throw that in the bin!’” Meg laughs.
Watercolour botanical art is Meg’s speciality and while she claims it is because, “I don’t draw well and flowers are very forgiving!”, she has been accepted into the Watercolour Society of WA and had seven paintings published in the book Natural Connections, produced by members of the Ravensthorpe Wildflower Show — the largest wildflower display in the world.
Meg enjoyed further lessons from local artist Julie Stitt and then — after persistent encouragement — joined fellow artists Margaret Oversby and Robyn Edwards in lessons at Atwell House.
“There was no way I was going to go all the way to Atwell,” remembers Meg.
“But Margaret kept at me! There was a two-day workshop that was being conducted over the school holidays and Margaret said, ‘You should come to that.’ I thought, ‘Oh dear — if I go, then at least I’ll be able to say I’ve been and I didn’t like it!’
“So, I went. And I did like it,” she laughs.
The group worked so harmoniously that they continued to meet closer to home once the lessons had stopped, and an exhibition of their work, honouring the now-deceased Margaret, is on display at the Mundaring Arts Centre until February.
Immersion in the botanical art world has strengthened Meg’s appreciation of the natural environment. She says, “In doing these detailed paintings, you look deeper into the plants themselves — to the stage where you almost find personalities in the plants.
“One Marri tree is the same as the next Marri tree, supposedly, but each plant has differences. It can be the colour of the stems, the shape of the leaf or nuts, the colour of the flower…it’s just amazing when you really look at your subject how many differences there are.”
When Meg isn’t painting — or playing the organ at Holy Trinity church — you are likely to find her loading up her campervan, loyal canine companions in tow, setting off to gather inspiration from our beautiful state. Meg has often been criticised for being ‘too independent’, but it is unlikely that without this independence, and her spirited confidence, she would have achieved anywhere near the success she did in her nursing career, nor had the impetus to take on new pursuit in retirement.
“I notice with older students that they expect to be perfect immediately,” said Meg. “And that’s across the board, not just art.”
Her advice is, “Don’t give up — it’s worth having a go, you just don’t realise what you’ve got in you.”
You can view Meg’s artwork later this year at the Guildford Village Potters Gallery, where she has a solo exhibit from 27 April. Meg also currently has submissions in the Lions Club Art Awards exhibition, at the Zig Zag Gallery in Kalamunda until 5 February, and the aforementioned The Sum of Us at Mundaring Arts Centre, which reopens on 27 January.