Bowen, Gretta (Margaretta) (1880–1981), artist, was born 1 January 1880 at Harbour House, North Circular Rd, Dublin, daughter of Samuel Arthur Bowen, railway official and amateur wood-carver. Educated at Marlborough St. School, she worked for a time as a cashier with a Dublin furrier before moving to Belfast – probably where she met Matthew Campbell , a Belfast-based grocer, originally from Caledon, Co. Down. They married in 1909 and subsequently lived for a time in Arklow, Co. Wicklow, before settling permanently in Belfast (1921), where Campbell established a catering business. After his death (1925) she took in lodgers to support herself and her three sons Arthur, Stanley, and George (qv), all of whom became artists. Her own career as an artist began almost accidentally shortly before her seventieth birthday, when, on clearing away some of her son's materials, she decided to experiment herself. Having overcome initial reluctance to inform her sons of her work, she eventually agreed to show publicly under her maiden name, and – despite the fact that she was completely untutored – experienced great success. Her first solo exhibition, organised by the CEMA (1955), which toured Northern Ireland, won her much publicity, attracting the attention of critics in The Times, who in view of her age and her primitive style of painting dubbed her an ‘Irish Grandma Moses’. Writing of her approach, The Times commented: ‘Rhythm and movement are the characteristics of her work. There is nothing static in it . . . and whatever she paints conveys a feeling of happiness, of brightness, of delight in life.’ She followed her initial success with one-woman shows at the Victor Waddington Gallery, Dublin (1955), the David Hendriks Gallery, Dublin (1961), the Bell Gallery, Belfast (1965), and the Tom Caldwell Galleries in Belfast (1970, 1976, 1980) and Dublin (1977, 1980). She also exhibited at the RHA (six works, 1969–72), the Oireachtas (1966), the Irish Exhibition of Living Art, and the Ulster Society of Women Artists. She and her most successful son, George, were among the Irish artists who exhibited at the Irish Club, London, in 1957. She also exhibited at solo and group shows in the USA and Canada, and in 1979 was represented at the International Naïves exhibitions at the Hamiltons Gallery, London. Her painting ‘Rustic sports’ was the subject of a popular 1974 Arts Council of Northern Ireland poster print. The following year the council commissioned her son George to paint her portrait, which appeared in the ‘Women of Ulster’ exhibition. Her later years, dogged by failing eyesight, were spent in the James Dixon Home, Belfast, where she died 8 April 1981. She is buried in the city cemetery, Belfast. Her work is represented in the Ulster Museum.
Times, 29 Dec. 1955; Ir. Times, 6 Mar. 1956, 16 Apr. 1981; John Hewitt, Art in Ulster, i (1977); Stewart, Index; Snoddy