September 2021

Katharine Bertram

Autobiographical Notes

Katharine was born Katharine Bertram Stone in Wellington, Shropshire, on the 21st of January 1908. Her family moved to Kingston when she was in her teens, and she attended Tiffin Girls’ School and then the Kingston School of Art in the late 1920’s. Afterwards she attended the Royal College of Art to study book design. Katharine did do some commercial work designing book covers and frontispieces, but we have no details of this.

At the RCA she met Reco Capey, a design teacher there and a successful designer in his own right. They married in 1936. Reco Capey was chief designer at Yardley’s of London, and Katharine assisted him in his work. She designed the Yardley bee, which was used by the company for many years. We have a diary of hers from 1936, which notes various other Yardley projects she was working on at the time, including the launch of the ‘Bond Street’ perfume in 1936, and her re-workings of the traditional Lavender and April Violets designs.

During this period she began to develop her own style of collage or ‘paper paintings’, which she produced under the name Katharine Bertram, although she used the name Capey in her day to day life. She moved with her husband to New York City in 1940, when Yardley moved their operations over there because of the war in Europe.

Katharine and Reco were both admitted to the MacDowell Artists’ Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire, where they met and were encouraged by its founder, Marian Nevins MacDowell. Katharine exhibited in her own right in both New York (Argent Galleries) and Philadelphia. Her letters home from this period indicate that the paintings were selling well and that she was producing a lot of them.

“I expect you are wondering about my exhibition - well it’s all planned now, & I'm working like a beaver to get enough work done – it’s going to be in Philadelphia from February 26 to March 11, and I have to have 25 pieces - of which I have about 20 already. I could do 5 easily in a month at the colony, but here if I do one a fortnight I'm extremely lucky, for I have to do all the silly jobs like keeping the house respectable…”
(letter home 1943)

Katharine returned to England in 1946, after her divorce from Reco Capey. She continued to work on her paper paintings, as well as doing freelance design work, including for a major department store in Sweden. She exhibited at the Leicester Galleries in London and in a gallery in Brighton, and was featured in the Illustrated London News in 1948. Unfortunately, in the difficult circumstances of the post war period in England, Katharine was unable to sell any paintings, and eventually gave up producing them, making a living from dressmaking and gardening for the remainder of her life.

Katharine lived with her brother Richard Stone, a Ministry of Information (subsequently Central Office of Information) photographer and photographics editor, and his family, from 1948 until her death. She died in Kingston-upon-Thames at the age of 63 on 29th April 1971. Although she had used the name ‘Katharine Bertram’ as an artist, she was always known in everyday life as Katharine Capey.