Doreen Ethelwyn Baxter (born 1910)
The South African artist and writer, Doreen Baxter, illustrated her own fairy tales with crisp yet decorative pen drawings, some of which she delicately coloured. She exemplifies the broad appeal of fairy subjects across British colonies and the Commonwealth during the twentieth century.
Doreen Baxter was born on 8 January 1910 in Pietermaritzburg, in the Colony of Natal, which, later that year, became part of the Union of South Africa, a self-governing dominion of the British Empire. Though she later suggested that her fairy tales were based on stories that she had told her ‘brothers and sisters’, it seems that she was actually the second of three sisters. They were the daughters of the QC and Legal Adviser to the Natal Provincial Administration, Egbert William Baxter and his Yorkshire-born wife, Winifred Bath (née Morris). Mrs Baxter made a significant collection of shells, which, in 1971, was given, as ‘The Morris-Baxter Shell Collection, to the South African Association for Marine Biological Research. Both Doreen and her younger sister, Sylvia, had assisted their mother in its arrangement.
Doreen and Sylvia trained as artists, and Sylvia became well known as a ceramicist, teaching at the Pietermaritzburg Ceramic Studio and School of Pottery, and running her own studio until the 1980s.
Doreen Baxter rose to prominence in the 1950s as the writer and illustrator of fairy tales, beginning with three books published by the Brockhampton Press of Leicester: Fairyland Frolics (1950), Dreamland Frolics (1951) and Woodland Frolics (1952). Two further volumes – New Fairy Tales (1955) and Wonderland Tales (1958) – were issued by J M Dent. She also illustrated the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen for The Fairy-Tale Omnibus, published in Glasgow by Collins in 1953 (and apparently reissued under various titles through the decade).
Though Doreen Baxter achieved some success in Britain, she seems to have continued living in South Africa. For home consumption, she illustrated Mzilikazi’s Tales of Zululand (Durban North Publications, 1953) and, a decade later, wrote and illustrated The Story of Wee Sukie Squouso (Cape Town: Timmins, 1964), which is probably the book issued in Afrikaans as Die storie van Tinkie Eekmuis (Kaapstad: Malherbe, 1964).
Doreen Baxter may still have been living in 1981, at 21 Waalhaven, Alexandra Road, Pietermaritzburg.