THE work of Linton-born artist Sheila Bownas - who died in 2007 - was in danger of fading into obscurity, until a chance discovery by a woman looking for original artwork to decorate her home.

Her work and extraordinary life - including timeless textile designs for the likes of Liberty and Marks and Spencer - are now the subject of an exhibition at the Rugby Art Gallery and Museum.

It was in 2008, while renovating her home, that gallery professional Chelsea Cefai was looking for mid-20th century artwork to hang on her newly painted walls.

What she had not expected was to stumble across an entire archive of original, hand painted designs.

“A complete treasure trove of artwork fell into my hands,” she said.

“My initial impulse to buy the designs was to rescue the collection and to ensure it stayed together rather than it being sold off separately.

"I could tell I had found something special and my instinct told me there was a story behind the pieces that could easily have been lost forever.”

Sheila was born in 1925 in Linton. She displayed a natural talent from an early age, and with the encouragement of her art mistress at Skipton Girls' High School, went on to Skipton Art College in the 1940s before securing a scholarship to The Slade, London's prestigious art school, where she won numerous prizes for her work.

After graduating in 1950, Sheila forged a career as a freelance designer, supplying patterns to the likes of Liberty and Marks and Spencer. She moved between London and Linton for 12 years, before finally settling in her beloved Dales for the rest of her life.

She continued selling designs by post for a further 20 years and worked on several portrait commissions.

It was only on her death in 2007 her family discovered the sheer scale of her collection of still life, landscape and portrait paintings – alongside the textile designs, which first alerted Chelsea to Sheila’s work.

Since first discovering Sheila’s work, Chelsea has founded the Sheila Bownas Archive and collaborated with artists and designers across the UK to produce a range of unique interior products, that bring the artist's patterns back to life.

And through making contact with Sheila’s family, Chelsea has pieced together a detailed history of her life and work, culminating in the exhibition – A Life in Pattern: The Life and Works of Sheila Bownas – which opened in June and runs until the autumn.

The exhibition features early paintings, textile designs spanning three decades, and photographs, private letters and research catalogues on loan from the Bownas family. The exhibition also includes a series of intricate botanical studies of marshlands, which Sheila produced for the National History Museum in 1962.

It also includes a to scale living room set featuring Sheila's distinctive designs.

Jessica Litherland, senior exhibitions officer at Rugby Art Gallery and Museum, said: “Chelsea has done an amazing job of bringing Sheila’s work back to life and for starting to raise her profile in the way she surely deserves. It has been a life changing labour of love but one that we should all be grateful for as we now have access to a little piece of design history transferred into a very modern context.”

Chelsea said the exhibition shone a spotlight on Sheila's unique talent, which so easily could have been lost.

"To finally see the work go on show for the very first time is the ultimate dream come true for me and something I am sure Sheila would have been incredibly proud of.”

A Life in Pattern – The Life and Works of Sheila Bownas at Rugby Art Gallery and Museum runs until Saturday, September 3.

For more information on the Sheila Bownas Archive, visit