THE colloquial name for people from Wiltshire has inspired a local artist to paint the Moonraker legend after being commissioned by a private client.

The legend has been recreated by local artist Joanna May and limited edition prints are now on display and for sale at her gallery in Devizes after the original was sold to the client for £6,000.

This name Moonraker refers to a folk story set in the time when smuggling was a significant industry in rural England, with Wiltshire lying on the smugglers' secret routes between the south coast and customers in the centre of the country.

Joanna, 57, said: “The painting was created as a commission for a collector of my work who wanted me to cover the Moonraker theme.

“She was born in the Devizes area and loved that local people were called ‘Moonrakers’ after the myth.

“I produced the painting this year, but it was booked before Lockdown and my client was furloughed so we agreed I would start the painting once the lockdown had lifted.

“I had produced a rough outline drawing at this point, and we discussed having a hare in the foreground since I’m well known for the hare in my paintings.

“Before I started the painting, I did a lot of research on the story of Moonraker which has very rarely been illustrated. I could only find a maximum of six illustrations of it on the internet.” 

She added: “The story goes that some local people had hidden contraband barrels of French brandy from customs officers in a village pond.

“While trying to retrieve it at night, they were caught by the revenue men, but explained themselves by pointing to the moon's reflection and saying they were trying to rake in a round cheese.

“I hired a costume to dress the model who posed in my back garden and I also took lots of photographs of the Crammer.

“I have included the outline of the hare in the Moon which is reflected in the peaceful scene. The rake is an old bull-nosed rake made of wood which would have been made in this period.

“The commission was booked for £6,000 so is sold, but limited edition prints can be bought starting from £350 for a mounted print £490 for a framed print.”

Joanna, who lives in Devizes, has run a gallery in Wiltshire for 22 years. Her first gallery in Marlborough opened in 2000. She later moved to Devizes and opened a gallery in Northgate Street opposite the Wadworth Brewery.

She added: “I have a real love for Wiltshire and have based many of my paintings on the Wiltshire landmarks.

“Next year in celebration of 20-plus years in business I have a big celebratory solo show at Devizes Museum called ‘Joanna May’s Love Letter to Wiltshire.’

“The private view, to be held on March 18, will be hosted by Paul Martin, the BBC’s TV presenter from Flog It, and Rula Lenska, the actress, will also be present. Both own my work.

“In a very strange coincidence, though I didn’t grow up in Wiltshire and didn’t settle here until I was 30, my parents had a boat on the River Thames called ‘Moonraker’.

 “My mother grew up in London but had heard of the Moonraker myth as a little girl at school and thought it would make a wonderful name for a boat.“Little did I know that I would one day live and have a business in Devizes where the myth came from and end up painting ‘Moonraker’.”