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Mary Ball 1922 – 2006

Mary trained at Goldsmiths College 1942-44, Bath Academy of Art 1951-52 and Goldsmiths again 1972-73 - 'Goldsmiths Diploma in Embroidery' and Selected Member of the Crafts Council Index (reselected 1984). She taught in schools and colleges. In 1973 she was invited as a Painter, Art Teacher and who had had her own Theatre Group, along with a couple of dozen other people from different backgrounds, interests and disciplines to attend the Experimental Puppetry Workshop held at The Central School of Speech and Drama. From this a group was formed, informally met, worked, shared and made together etc. resulting in a performance piece called 'Red'. From 1974 – 81 she was Senior Lecturer in charge of Embroidery Workshop for art and drama graduates and art postgraduates at Middlesex Poly/now Uni. During this time, she obtained a grant to set up a staff studio workshop (8 members experimenting) in integration of the arts using sculpture, puppet animation, film slides, music and sounds, exploring various schemes and historic precedent, resulting in performances. She retired 1981 in order to concentrate on her own work, exhibiting and selling and made a 'theatre Space' in her house where she began experimenting with her own work, coloured light, sound and movement. She also set up a working group Interartists which met regularly in her studio and continued to experiment with groups and individual artists from different art disciplines, such as the sculptor Oleg Prokofiev, amongst others. She created textile forms and wall hangings, using canvas, calico, cottons, silks, linen and string.  Her work was exhibited by Anatol Orient and her work became known in Japan, featuring in two major exhibitions there. As a member of the Crafts Council, she had work in some of their exhibitions. In 1994 she moved to Newlyn in Cornwall continuing to make, exhibit and sell work, becoming one of the Newlyn Artists. She became increasingly interested in experimenting, hanging/moving her sculptures in nature whilst filming and photographing them. 

Further details of Training, Teaching, Exhibitions, Articles, Workshops and Performance Pieces etc… can be provided. Mary Ball has work in both Private and Education Authority Collections in England and USA. She is Listed on the Cornish Artists Index.

Statements where she explains How and Why she 'chose' to work in the way she did… 

Early 1980's for an exhibition 'Embroidered Textiles'.

'I want my work to be robust, like a painting, yet retain the quality of a textile – to be capable of movement and to express a certain ambiguity. I work at it as a painting, changing direction or discarding in response to the statement as it grows. The technique is more or less the same for all. I start with the basic material (cloth or canvas), change it by dyeing or painting it, cut or tear it into strips and then begin to reassemble or 'mend' it. The embroidery, which is often a single linear use of the machine main stitch, is mainly used to join and change the structure of the piece, String is used for stiffening and structuring. Some of the pieces could almost be worn. They have overtones of garments and sometimes figures, all of them contain some kind of landscape, or quality of landscape.'

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‘‘I work in fabric, mainly now in silk, because of its endless possibilities of movement. I start by painting with dyes, then cutting, tearing, piecing, joining and mending, all in an intuitive and spontaneous way, testing and exploring the vulnerability of fabric and threads, until the forms seem right. The completed pieces have overtones of garments, of landscape and of states of mind. For some I paint calico backgrounds to give them a space of their own. Some recent pieces have been used for performance’’  Mary Ball - 1988

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‘‘I find in fabric an expressive medium, apt to develop ideas of colour and form, moving easily from two dimensions to three dimensions. I have gradually rejected the precise techniques, wishing to let the fabric speak for itself, to explore its vulnerability and its poetic force. The recent silk pieces are alike or similar in form, but express different thoughts. They are ambiguous and insubstantial. Some are in rags, some roughly mended; none are whole. I like to group two or three together to observe the vibrations between them and how much space they can use’’ Mary Ball - 1993

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‘‘I work with cloth in a very direct way, as if it were paint or clay. I use the machine in tune with rhythms of my body and thoughts, to join and shape the piece. I start from a colour idea, cutting and tearing the fabric and painting it with dye. The rest is chance and changing directions, leaving a map or record of the journey – The works are formless, but take on forms of rock or earth or sea’’ Mary Ball - 1996


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Mary Ball was a very generous person always willing to take on other people's views, ideas and suggestions etc…

She said she often felt like, an outsider not working within conventional methods or conventional boundaries.  From the nearly 200 pieces of work remaining, we think her map, her record of her journey and pioneering spirit over 50 years, is worth showing and should be made permanently available for others to see.

Below is a review by Martin Bright in his article ‘Mary Ball Embroidered Textiles – South Hill Park Arts Centre’, in CRAFTS QUARTERLY, Autumn 1982 

‘We are offered a thought-provoking exhibition which could just as easily have been labelled “sculpture” under the present broadly defined use of the word.’

‘The high degree of craft work is there to be sure, but it is very much subdued in the interests of purely visual ideas’

‘The nature of the work moves gradually from the values of off-stretcher painting to the residual kind of sculpture often described as ‘post Caro’ (or as I prefer to call it ‘post content’

‘…. the pieces may simultaneously suggest garments, figures and landscapes ....’

‘Nature is not imitated, but equivalents of nature are to be found throughout the exhibition.’

To discover more about Mary’s inspirations, along with details of the next showing of the artists works, visit the exhibition page.


Below are just a few biographical photos of Mary, found in a time capsule we had the pleasure to have in our mist in preparation for bringing her work to life again.