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Margaret Ursula Brown
22 May 1909
Chesham, England, UK
|Died||30 November 1988 (aged 79)
Seagrave, Leicestershire, England, UK
|Spouse(s)||1) Reginald Bruce Bartlett; 2) Greville Mee|
Margaret Ursula Mee, MBE (22 May 1909 – 30 November 1988) was a British botanical artist who specialised in plants from the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest. She was also one of the first environmentalists to draw attention to the impact of large-scale mining and deforestation on the Amazon Basin.
Margaret Ursula Brown was born in Whitehill, Chesham in 1909. She attended Dr Challoner's Grammar School, Amersham, followed by The School of Art, Science and Commerce, Watford. After a short period of teaching in Liverpool she decided to travel abroad.
While in Berlin in 1933, Brown witnessed the burning of the Reichstag and subsequent Jewish boycott, which confirmed her left-wing views. During the Second World War she worked in Hatfield as a draughtswoman at the de Havilland aircraft factory.
Mee married Reginald Bruce Bartlett in January 1936. Like her husband, she became a committed trade union activist for the Union of Sign, Glass and Ticket Writers and joined the Communist Party. Mee addressed the TUC in 1937, proposing the raising of the school-leaving age and was subsequently offered, but declined, a job with Ernest Bevin. The marriage to Bartlett was not happy and, after a long separation, ended in divorce in 1943. She later married Greville Mee, who was also attending Saint Martin's School of Art, in the late 1940s.
Career as artist
After the war Mee studied art at Saint Martin's School of Art in London. In 1950 she attended the Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts, where she learnt her style of illustration, and received a national diploma in painting and design in 1950. She moved to Brazil with Greville Mee in 1952 to teach art in the British school of São Paulo. Her first expedition was in 1956 to Belém in the Amazon Basin. She then became a botanical artist for São Paulo's Instituto de Botanica in 1958, exploring the rainforest and more specifically Amazonas state from 1964, painting the plants she saw, some new to science, as well as collecting some for later illustration. She created 400 folios of gouache illustrations, 40 sketchbooks, and 15 diaries.
Mee travelled to Washington D. C., USA in 1964 and briefly to England in 1968 for the exhibition and publication of her book, Flowers of the Brazilian Forests. She returned to Brazil and joined protests to draw international attention to the deforestation of the Amazon region.
Mee died following a car crash in Seagrave, Leicestershire on 30 November 1988. She was 79. In January 1989 a memorial to her life, botanical work and environmental campaigning took place in Kew Gardens.
Recognition and honours
In 1976 Mee was awarded the MBE for services to Brazilian botany and a fellowship of the Linnean Society in 1986. She also received recognition in Brazil including an honorary citizenship of Rio in 1975, the Brazilian order of Cruzeiro do Sul in 1979, In her honour, after her death the Margaret Mee Amazon Trust was founded to further education and research in Amazonian plant life and conservation, by providing scholarships for Brazilian botanical students and plant illustrators who wish to study in the United Kingdom or conduct field research in Brazil.
The Diaries of Margaret Mee, written between 1956 and 1988, were published posthumously in 2004 and included an illustrated account of Mee's expeditions to the Amazonian rainforest. Most of her illustrations are now part of the Kew Gardens collection.
- Obituary, The Times, 3 December 1988
- Margaret Mee profile at the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
- "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 1 December 2010.
- Margaret Mee – Artist and Rebel. Nonesuch Expeditions. 1988. Retrieved December 2010
- JSTOR Biography of Margaret Mee. Retrieved December 2010
- Mee, Margaret (2004). Mee's Amazon – Diaries of an Artist Explorer. Antique Collectors' Club Ltd. ISBN 1-85149-454-5.
- "Brazil: The lady who loved the river"
- Mee, Margaret (1968). Flowers of the Brazilian Forests. The Tryon Gallery. ISBN 978-0-902189-02-7.
- Mee, Margaret, Smith, Lyman (1969). Bromélias brasileiras. Barnes. ISBN 0-498-06887-0.
- Mee, Margaret (1988). Margaret Mee in Search of the Amazon Forests: Diaries of an English Artist Reveal the Beauty of the Vanishing Rainforests. Woodbridge: Nonesuch Expeditions. ASIN B000U8X9UK.
- Mee, Margaret, Stiff, Ruth (1997). Margaret Mee: Return to the Amazon. Natural Wonders Press. ISBN 1-905377-06-1.
- Mee, Margaret (1998). Flowers of the Amazon. Pomegranate Europe Ltd. ISBN 1-56640-043-0.
- Mee, Margaret (2006). The Flowering Amazon: Margaret Mee Paintings from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Natural Wonders Press. ISBN 1-905377-06-1.
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