NORA LUCY MOWBRAY CUNDELL (1889-1948)
"Cathedral Rock Afternoon"
16" x 20", Oil on Canvas Board 20130
Nora Lucy Mowbray Cundell (1889-1948)
Nora Lucy Mowbray Cundell was born in 1889 in London. She became interested in art as a young girl and by 1911 was exhibiting at the Royal Academy. It wasn’t until 1934 when she first toured the American West that she found her true calling.
Nora was inspired to make the trip to America because of descriptions of the canyon and northern Arizona written by her friend J. B. Priestley, the English author and playwright. Priestley and his family made several visits to the Grand Canyon, the Vermillion Cliffs, Painted Desert, and Navajo country.
This trip began a series of visits to Arizona and the surrounding areas. Cundell developed a deep love and respect for the nature and culture of the American West, and spent her time exploring and trying to capture it in her work. She was especially fascinated by Marble Canyon in northeastern Arizona, a place she returned to the next year for painting and sketching. About this year-long visit, she wrote and published Unsentimental Journey.
During World War II, Nora Cundell was a Casualty Superintendent in London, part of the civilian defense organization formed to protect citizens during enemy bombing raids. Nora, who had driven alone across the United States a few years previously, now drove an ambulance through London streets during the night, transporting injured victims to hospitals. This would have been a highly dangerous job, traveling through the dark city during the blackout, exposed to the explosives and fires erupting all around from the incendiary chemical and gas bombs dropped by the German Luftwaffe.
After the war, Cundell made one final trip to America. Due to an unusually cold winter, she suffered from chills on the journey there and it took her a few weeks to recover. She visited her friends and stayed in a cabin near Lee’s Ferry until the summer. She went back to England with plans of returning to Lee’s Ferry in winter, but unfortunately she was diagnosed with cancer upon her return and lived only a few more months. She passed away on August 3rd, 1948.
Nora’s work has been shown in the Royal Academy in England, the Royal Society of Portrait Painters, and the French Salon in Paris. Paintings now hang in the Tate Gallery in London and the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff, Arizona. Most of her paintings, unfortunately, have “disappeared” into private collections, likely owned by people who know very little of this adventurous woman who drove alone across America in a Model A Ford in 1935, rode horseback in the wild Arizona canyons, and painted Navajos in their hogans, the vermillion-colored cliffs, and deep gorges of the Colorado River country.
Biography adapted from information provided by the artist and An Encyclopedia of Women Artists of the American West.