Patricia ‘Mary’ Oliver was born in 1931 in Walton, Surrey, the daughter of Percy Oliver and Gertrude (nee Curtis). Mary studied at Guildford High School before going to the local School of Art from 1949-54, befriending Elisabeth Frink. Though the quote calls Mary a sculpture, Frink was in the painting department before moving over to sculpture and it is likely how they met.
Mary Figg, a sculpture student with her at Guildford, remembered her as ‘exuberant, clear-headed, hard-working, very warm and very kind’. She never ignored you and knew ‘exactly what she wanted to make, was self-directed, positive and needed no props from teachers’. She didn’t look in the least smart, like some with well-off parents in Surrey’s affluent commuter belt who were also independent-minded. Lis was certainly that: at seventeen, she had a clarity of vision and a vigour which suited the moment that post-war, idealistic, constructive moment of optimism when students got their grants and could strike out on their own, do their own thing. ‘And that’, Mary Figg said, ‘was specially important for girls’.Stephen Gardiner – Frink (1999)
She gained a scholarship to study at the Royal Academy Schools from 1954-1957. She was awarded a David Murray Grant painting prize in 1955. While at the RA Schools, their records show that she went under the name Patricia Gouldon Oliver for reasons that are not exactly clear. Later on she went under the name of Mary.
She studied at a training college to become a teacher and got a joy at the Maiden Erlegh School in Reading. She married Peter Figg. On moving to Cornwall in the 1980s Mary ran the art department in Wadebridge school. She died in 2021.
The paintings featured here were sold at auction under Patricia Goulden Oliver however they didn’t enter them under her married name of Mary Figg, why is also unclear. The records they give for their mother doesn’t line up to the records in the Royal Academy archive either, however work featured in Mary Figg’s obituary is undoubtedly the same women.
Her work has some resemblance to other artists who were exhibiting at the Royal Academy at that time, such as this painting by James Fitton of his wife, (1955).