Helen Mary Jacobs, BWS (1888-1970)
Talented in both draughtsmanship and watercolour painting, Helen Jacobs soon established herself as a children’s illustrator. Though best known for the precision, energy and imagination of her early fairy subjects, she responded well to a variety of commissions; and, as a primary teacher, she seemed an ideal interpreter of textbooks and primers.
Helen Jacobs was the daughter of a wharf manager, and half-sister of the popular writer W W Jacobs. Born in Ilford, in Essex, she spent her childhood in Stoke Newington, and studied at the West Ham Municipal College, under Arthur Legge. From about 1912, she lived at Winchmore Hill.
Jacobs exhibited from 1910, at the Royal Academy, the Royal Institute of Painters in Water-Colours and the Dudley Gallery. It may be assumed that, as a member of the British Watercolour Society, she was also represented in its exhibitions. In addition, she produced a series of drawings of species of moth for the entomologist Lord Rothschild.
However, Jacobs quickly established herself as a children’s illustrator, working mainly in watercolour and pen and ink; she contributed to annuals (including Pip & Squeak) and periodicals (including The Sunday Fairy), while responding increasingly to commissions from major publishers, most notably Harrap.
In her later years, Jacobs taught at a primary school in Stoke Newington, and turned to illustrating school books and primers. These included frequent collaborations with her friend Stella Mead (‘The Open Road’ series, and other Nisbet publications) and some with Constance M Martin (particularly the ‘Riverside Readers’ exemplified here). The pedagogic material led to a move away from the precise beauty of her early fairy watercolours to a brighter, bolder graphic style.