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Original Church Mice Art Up for Auction

by | Aug 30, 2023 | Articles and Reports, News

 

For decades, the adventures of a ginger cat and his rodent friends in the fictional town of Wortlethorpe caught the imagination of millions of British children.

Published between 1970 and the year 2000, Graham Oakley’s Church Mice book series was a huge hit with young readers and their parents.

Now, you can get your hands on some of the original illustrations as more than 750 works by the artist, who died last December, are set to fetch up to £100,000 at auction.

Mr Oakley’s books featured a cat called Sampson who was taught not to kill mice, and so they instead became his friends and allies.

Holed up in Wortlethorpe’s church, the animals had many adventures under titles including The Church Mice in Action and The Church Mice Spread Their Wings. The warm-hearted works were widely praised for their richly detailed illustrations and their witty ironic humour, with the books appealing to children and adults alike.

Mr Oakley died aged 93 in Dorchester, Dorset and left his studio archive to benefit the charity Save the Children in his will.

As well as his drawings, the sale includes his personal paint box and art supplies. They are being sold via Charterhouse Auctioneers, of Sherborne in Dorset.

There are more than 750 lots of original artwork that will be sold without reserve, with many of the Church Mice illustrations expected to sell for about £200 each.

Some of the watercolours are his original works for the front cover of books including The Church Mice in Action, The Church Mice at Bay and the Church Cat Abroad. Mr Oakley went to art school but his studies were interrupted when he was called up for national service in 1947. He went on to work as a set designer, first at a London theatre, then the Royal Opera House and finally at the BBC.

The first book in his series, simply titled The Church Mouse, was published in 1972.

It was the start of the friendship between Sampson and Arthur, the main church mouse.

Mr Oakley was persuaded to carry on writing about the adventures of the two animals and their friends in the church and brought out several more in the 1970s.

By 1977 the books were doing well enough for Mr Oakley to leave the BBC and focus on being an author. Several of the books were even nominated for and sometimes won major literary awards.

The Church Mice Adrift was a New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book of the Year and was nominated for a Kate Greenaway Medal in 1977.

He produced other books too and there are illustrations from those in the sale, such as the Foxbury Force, about a team of fox detectives in the 1990s.

The collection will be sold in Sherborne on September 27.

 

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