A Wiltshire museum hopes to publish lost book, 70 years after author dies

"White Horse," by Eric Ravilious, who was killed in World War II.
Image caption The museum has spent its annual acquisitions budget for the next 16 years on the dummy book

A Wiltshire museum is hoping to publish a "lost" children's book, 70 years after its author died in a plane crash.

The mock-up of the Puffin Picture book White Horse was created by illustrator Eric Ravilious in the 40s.

Featuring pencil outlines of hill figures, including Westbury White Horse, the book was never finished and for years was thought to be lost.

But in January, it was found in London and bought by the Wiltshire Heritage Museum in Devizes for almost £5,000.

Ravilious was one of the leading artists of the 1930s, designing posters, furniture, textiles and ceramics for clients such as Wedgwood and London Transport.

But in 1942, whilst serving as an official war artist, his plane failed to return from a search-and-rescue mission over Iceland.

And the picture book he had been working on, due to be published as part of the Puffin series, was never finished.

"The dummy book has been known about for years but it was never found," said David Dawson, the museum's director.

"Some researchers even went to Iceland to try and track it down.

"But it was in London all the time, at a friend of a friend's house, who had no idea anyone was looking for it."

Inspired by the chalk lands of southern England, the 32-page book was to be "full of Wiltshire" with watercolours of the county's chalk hill figures, ancient monuments and prehistoric earthworks.

Image caption The proposed children's book by the leading artist was to be "full of Wiltshire"

"His work is like hen's teeth, nearly all his watercolours are in public collections and almost never come to the market," said Mr Dawson.

"So when we got the tip-off, a couple of days before the book came up for auction, we just had to have it."

The museum has an annual acquisitions budget of just £300 and has had to launch a special appeal to raise funds to cover the purchase of the book.

It is also hoping to publish a version of the book to help cover the cost.

"We would like to try and create the sort of book he intended," said Mr Dawson.

"It can't be a re-creation as there's not enough information - so it's going to take a lot of work."

White Horse by Eric Ravilious is on display at the Wiltshire Heritage Museum, in Devizes, until 29 July.

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