THE last founder of the famous Burnley-based Pendelfin Studios which gave the world the unique rabbit figurines has died aged 87.
Miss Jean Walmsley Heap, who was born in the Tim Bobbin pub, which was owned by her grandad, launched the firm in 1953 with her friend Jeannie Todd as a hobby and built it up to an international firm with customers in the United States, Canada, Europe, Asia, Australia and the Caribbean.
Growing up in Padiham Road, Miss Walmsley Heap was educated at Ightenhill County Primary School before her artistic talent won her a scholarship to Burnley School of Art, where she decided to become a children's illustrator.
She drew for children's books until the outbreak of the Second World War, when she was drafted into industry and worked at a leather factory in Preston. She returned to Burnley in 1943 and designed murals to brighten up wartime nurseries.
Pendelfin was founded when Miss Walmsley Heap met Miss Todd when both were working at Burnley Building Society. The pair started in a wooden shed in Miss Todd's garden and the company grew over the years, with fans all over the world snapping up the stone-crafted and hand-painted rabbits.
It was based for years at Cameron Mills in Howsin Street before moving to Briercliffe Business Centre but that base sadly closed in 2006 and the figures are now manufactured in China, with some distribution taking place in Newcastle.
Jeannie Todd died in 1974, and in the late 1970s Miss Walmsley Heap moved to North Wales with her friends and fellow Pendelfin director Doreen Roberts and another friend, and then moved up to Grange-Over-Sands in Cumbria, where she lived until her death, just one day before her 88th birthday. Miss Roberts died last year.
Her cousin, Mr Ernest Hartley, who was close to Miss Walmsley Heap throughout her life, said: "Jean was an artist, she was hopeless at any business activity. She lived in a dreamworld so it was good that she had friends around her to sort out that part of her life!
"She was a lovely, generous person and she was a genius really, the art and the models she produced were marvellous, and so well-loved."
In 1994, a commemorative plaque was put up at the Tim Bobbin, in a tribute to the birthplace of Miss Walmsley Heap. She was involved as a designer with the company she founded up until its sale.
Miss Walmsley Heap's funeral will be held today at 3 p.m. at Waltonwray's Crematorium in Skipton. Donations in her memory can be made to St Mary's Hospice, care of G. Postlethwaite, Funeral Director, Main Street, Grange Over Sands, LA11 6DP, or call 01539 533040.