Bothwell granny is a painting sensation despite being registered blind

Margaret McNeil shows off one of the many hundreds of paintings she has completed since losing her sight
Margaret McNeil shows off one of the many hundreds of paintings she has completed since losing her sight

A 95-year-old South Lanarkshire pensioner has painted more than 300 dazzling masterpieces, despite being registered blind.

Margaret McNeil, who has lived at Bield’s Fife Court in Bothwell for 26 years, is known for her rugged landscapes and animal portraits.

And many of her finished pieces are now hanging in people’s homes around the globe.

Since being registered blind three years ago, the former House of Fraser dress fitter has relied on both her sense of touch and memories to bring her paintings to life.

Margaret said: “I’ve always painted.

“I just footered about with it on my own really.

“When we used to go up north in a tent I always took watercolours and oil paints along with me.

“I used to get the big stones from the beach, paint them all and give them to people as door stops.

“I had never had any training.

“I remember when my husband George took ill and we had to come back home, and sadly he died.

“I was out a walk with my Labrador one night when a friend stopped her car and said she was picking me up the following night and taking me to an arts and crafts class.

“Everyone was so nice but I felt that I was so heartbroken that I never enjoyed myself.

“A note about evening classes came round but I couldn’t make the time.

“So I went to tap dancing instead. I got talking to the leaders about art and they took me round to Duncan Brown – an art teacher at the town hall.

“Before I left I had been enrolled in Wednesday and Thursday art classes.

“I did around 221 big paintings until my sight got so bad that I thought I would need to give up.

“But Duncan wouldn’t let me leave and I still go to the classes every week.

“I can still do the trees. I look very closely at the picture and I tend to use ones I’ve done a lot before so I do a lot by memory.

“It is hard but I get there and I think I’ve now done around 315 altogether.”

Margaret has always been inspired by nature and believes it may be a family trait which has been passed down from generation to generation.

She said: “I was a very keen gardner, I always had a garden, and my father was as well.

“Nature is just so beautiful. I took some of my paintings for my grandsons one day and I thought the one who was the vet would choose an animal one, but he took one of trees saying ‘I love trees grandma’ and I thought ‘ah, the genes are working’.”

When not creating strokes of genius, the grandmother of three, who says she eats little apart from chocolate, spends most of her time baking.

Renowned locally for both her lemon and coffee and walnut cakes, many believe that Margaret could also give Mary Berry a run for her money.

She added: “Well, I make around 20 cakes on a normal day and another 12 for church on Sunday – half cakes for couples and quarters for single people.

“The dentist and the doctor’s surgeries get one each every week and one goes to the police and the bank too.

“It gives me a purpose in life.

“Why would you get up in the morning and think poor old me? With nothing to do until lunch time then tea time – that’s an empty life.

“It’s nice to know that you have given someone a wee bit of pleasure.

“I have always said to have a friend you’ve to be one yourself because so many people want to take and don’t want to give of themselves.

“I’m not talking about presents that cost a lot of money. I’m talking about time and interest. I just happen to like people.

“Maybe that’s why people refer to me as their ‘surrogate granny’.

“Everyone still likes to feel they are needed and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Margaret lives at Fife Court, one of many very successful Bield developments around Scotland.

The registered charity has been providing high quality housing and related services for older people for more than 40 years, allowing them to lead an independent lifestyle with help always on hand.

And Margaret is living proof that there is life out there – if you are just willing to grasp and make the most of it. More power to her, we say – and no, we’re not after any cakes!