Pollyanna Pickering was a warm, caring, highly talented yet unassuming lady who reached the pinnacle of her career as a wildlife artist while achieving international respect for her passionate commitment to conservation.
Pollyanna, who passed away recently following a short illness, was born in Leeds in 1942. From her earliest childhood, Pollyanna had paint, pencils and paper to hand. When she decided that she would like to go to art school to further her studies, she was summoned to the headmistress’s office with a portfolio of work. Her headmistress looked through the folder in silence, and slammed it shut with the immortal words “You’ll never make a living at that!”
Fortunately Pollyanna’s parents had a little more faith in her abilities, and allowed her to attend Rotherham Art school – and at the end of her first year she won the coveted award for the most promising student. It was here Pollyanna met her husband – to – be, Ken Pickering, an industrial designer.
She and Ken married in 1963, after Pollyanna had spent a further three years studying at the London Central School of Art. During her time at Rotherham art school, Pollyanna and Ken would travel out into the Peak District most weekends to sketch and In 1968, they moved to a cottage in Bakewell, a year before Pollyanna gave birth to their daughter Anna-Louise.
Shortly afterwards Pollyanna took the brave step of going freelance as a professional artist. Money was very tight, and couldn’t afford to have her pictures framed, and scoured jumble sales to buy frames, painting work to fit them.
In 1971 Pollyanna signed with her first publisher, who produced a series of prints of pedigree dogs – and this proved to be the huge turning point in her career. At the time there were no other open edition prints of domestic animals on the market and Pollyanna’s work was an instant hit. A series of over sixty studies of pedigree dogs and cats followed during the 1970’s, and for the first time Pollyanna’s work reached a wider audience, selling throughout the UK and Europe. In 1974 she accepted a commission to design her first ever Christmas cards for a charity – Oxfam.
Sadly in 1979 just two years after moving into the home in the Derbyshire Dales, which Pollyanna and her daughter continued to share, Ken died, at the age of 41. He had been diagnosed with cancer before their marriage, but had been in remission for nearly fifteen years. Pollyanna nursed him throughout the final months of his illness.
Ultimately his untimely death proved another turning point in Pollyanna’s career. She threw herself body and soul into her work, partly out of the economic necessity of bringing up a young daughter alone – and partly to help cope with the grief of losing her husband.
Pollyanna subsequently signed with her current publishers Otter House, and working in close association with them has become the most published fine artist in the UK, with work selling in over 80 countries around the world. Practically every home in Britain will have enjoyed her art at some time in the form of a Christmas or greeting card, print or calendar.
Pollyanna also found her original work gaining more and more acclaim, and in 1982 became accredited to her first London Gallery, the Tryon and Moorland. In 1983 her work was first accepted for display in the Royal Academy. In the same year she won her first major award – the prestigious Silver Palette Trophy. By the end of the decade Pollyanna was already firmly established as one of Europe’s leading wildlife artists, a remarkable achievement in a field which remains almost entirely male-dominated.
Celebrity clients including David Bowie and John Hurt purchased work, and she was even commissioned to paint Her Majesty The Queen’s favourite racing pigeon! She could never have predicted the diverse opportunities her career would bring – she even became a familiar face on radio and television, filming documentaries for Channel 4 and BBC1 – and over the past five years she became a regular and much loved guest on the Create and Craft channel!
Even during the earliest days of her career, her desire to paint animals from life lead her to visit wildlife hospitals to sketch the birds and animals they were looking after. She became more and more interested in the rescue and rehabilitation work they were doing, and this eventually lead to her establishing a wildlife sanctuary from her own home. Caring mainly for injured and orphaned birds of prey, she also rehabilitated foxes, hedgehogs, squirrels and other mammals. This close contact with the creatures in her care continues to be reflected in the realism and vitality of her work.
In 1989 Pollyanna’s daughter Anna-Louise joined her mother to work in the business full-time. Originally standing in on a temporary basis to replace Pollyanna’s previous personal assistant who had left to set up her own business, Anna-Louise soon became thoroughly fascinated by and involved in the work, and this unique mother and daughter partnership continued to work and travel together.
Pollyanna realised that if she wanted to capture the true character and beauty of the animals she was depicting, she would need to travel to paint them in their natural habitats. Following her first journey into Kenya in 1986 she painted on every single continent. This in itself is surely a unique achievement – there cannot be many artists – especially women – who have packed their art materials and then sketched their chosen subject on each and every one of the seven continents.
Accompanied by Anna-Louise, who acted as official photographer on their travels, Pollyanna camped in tents and igloos in the High Arctic in search of polar bears, journeyed by river boat through the forests of Borneo, and just last summer braved crocodile infested rivers in Brazil to sketch wild jaguars. The expeditions were not without their dangers. The intrepid duo found scorpions in their camp beds and tarantulas in their towels – they were charged by a wild tiger in India, braved extreme temperatures as low as -60 in Siberia and faced huge venomous Komodo Dragons armed only with a forked stick!
The time that Pollyanna spent with a sketch pad observing birds and animals in their natural environment brought a respect and understanding of their energy and individual character, which shone through in the timeless appeal of her completed paintings. This created a huge demand for her work from animal charities, and Pollyanna was always most pleased when her work could help support causes close to her heart. Over the years her designs have raised millions of pounds for charities at home and abroad.
As Pollyanna became ever more involved in caring for wildlife, and in world wide conservation, she also became more personally involved with the work of many charities. She was patron of more than thirty organisations, including The Born Free Foundation, Naturewatch and The Badger Trust.
She established the Pollyanna Pickering Foundation which raises funds for Conservation, animal welfare and disaster relief internationally. The work of the Foundation will be continued by Anna-Louise and the board of trustees.
Pollyanna received close to fifty awards and accolades for her work including three lifetime achievement awards, the most recent from America at the beginning of this year. She was awarded an honorary degree by the University of Derby, and in 2012 received the most prestigious International Award in the field of Wildlife Art at a celebration gala event in Canada – the Simon Combes award for Conservation through Artistic Excellence.
Pollyanna never intended to retire, and had many future plans. Just 2 months ago she was trekking in the Sonoran Desert, sketching the wildlife for a scheduled one man exhibition in one of the most prestigious galleries in the USA. Expeditions were planned into Kenya, North America and even Outer Mongolia, where she hoped to find the snow leopards which had eluded her on previous treks into the Himalayas! Her energy and boundless enthusiasm for life remained undimmed – and she would have undoubtedly needed another lifetime to paint all the pictures she carried in her mind.
Pollyanna remained passionate about wildlife and equally passionate about accurately interpreting her subjects. To the very end she was a champion of environmental conservation, both on the national and international stage, and an indefatigable campaigner for the welfare of endangered, sick and vulnerable creatures.
The first prime minister of India Jahwarhal Nehru said “We live in a wonderful world full of beauty charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we travel with our eyes open.”Pollyanna truly travelled through life with her eyes open, her paintings capturing with flawless detail the diverse beauty of a world that is wild, unspoiled and rich with life. Her artwork will stand alongside her conservation work as a continuing inspiration and her lasting legacy.
You can make a donation to the Foundation in Pollyanna’s memory online at