The Holt Society
Pictures of Holt

Dot Shreeve

With the sad passing of Vic Shreeve recently we share again an article published in the Holt Chronicle shortly after his wife and local artist Dot Shreeve died...

'It all started with a roll of paper' ... Remembering Dot Shreeve

Mary Alexander talks to Vic Shreeve about an extraordinary partnership

Local artist and resident of Holt, Dot Shreeve, sadly died in May 2014. Dot loved Holt and was keen to share her passion for drawing with a wider audience. She was modest about her talent and gave generously, with no interest in celebrity or self promotion. On Shirehall Plain you can see her detailed pen and ink sketches on the Great Fire of 1708 map, and can enjoy many of her intimate views of the town in the booklet 'A Stroll Through Holt' (available from the Tourist Information Centre and the Holt Bookshop, price £1).

"It all started with a roll of paper" her husband, Vic, told me when we met recently to talk about Dot's work. They were both born and met in Norwich, married in 1956 and had two sons within the next four years. Finding a large roll of paper in the back of the wardrobe one day, Vic was amazed to discover inside a treasure trove of drawings - wildlife, plants and landscapes - all pieces of work for a scholarship Dot had won at Norwich School of Art and Design as a young girl where she took art as a special subject. Characteristically, Dot had never mentioned this. "I could see that she had real talent and said to her - why don't you take it up again? Soon afterwards, she said would like to draw the round tower churches of Norfolk - all 124 of them!"

This was the beginning of an ambitious project and a loving collaboration. Talking with Vic made me realise what a creative 'team' they were. Although he never took any credit at the time, his constant encouragement boosted her confidence. His knowledge of paper, printing materials and publishing contacts through working at the stationers Colmans of Norwich, and later at Jarrolds, proved invaluable. Once a week on Vic's day off when the children were at school, they would set off with a map to find a church on the list. Some were easier to find than others. Dot would select the viewpoint and Vic would make a panoramic view from multiple shots, using only a simple family camera. Detailed drawings were done later at home.

"We once did three churches in a day and used up a whole roll of film, this was before the days of digital. She knew exactly what she wanted and would ask me to scramble up muddy banks and down the other side to get the best shot. One day we had a huge problem with an 'elusive' church. It was on private land in the middle of nowhere. Eventually we found it in the middle of a copse, derelict and completely covered in foliage!" The Round Tower Churches of Norwich was published in 2001, with three reprints. It can now be found in secondhand bookshops, online, or the library.

The range of Dot Shreeve's work is remarkable. I hadn't realised that she designed greetings cards for a leading card manufacturer, and that for many years her designs were in the top 20 best sellers category - no mean achievement in such a highly competitive industry. After moving to Holt in 1997 to be nearer the north Norfolk coast where they both loved to walk, Dot did more botanical illustration. Irises were a favourite. She loved their fragile beauty and would get up early, cut a stem from the garden, and capture their transparency and shimmering velvet textures.

As we were talking, it struck me how much was achieved with so few resources - a box of pencils, a simple camera, later upgraded to a Canon SLR. Perhaps our obsession today with high tech quick fix solutions makes us lazy viewers. We look but don't always see. I came away feeling honoured to have known Dot and to have shared these memories with Vic. Holt has lost a very special person whose drawings and watercolours of the town will live on and encourage us all to 'Slow Down', observe, and reflect on how lucky we are to be in this beautiful place.