Northern Scot

Page 6, Friday, July 13, 2001


artist dies

at home

ONE of Tomintoul's most illustrious residents, Mary Barnes, who overcame mental illness to become a renowned artist, poet and writer has died suddenly at her home at the age of 78.

Mary was born in Portsmouth and started training as a nurse when she was 17. At the age of 22 during World War II she became an Army Nursing sister and worked in Cairo and Palestine.

After returning to Britain she worked in various hospitals In the London area and eventually became a nursing tutor.

She had tier first breakdown in 1952, when she was diagnosed a schizophrenic. She was told that she could not look forward to a full life and would probably spend most of her life in a mental institution and her nursing career was eventually brought to an end.

As a result of meeting the late R.D. Laing the renowned Scottish psychotherapist, she became In 1965 the first resident of Kingsley Hall In London, Britain's first psychotherapeutic household. There she was allowed lo make the dangerous descent into madness, regressing to the state of helpless babe so that she could grow up again into sanity.

With the help of her psychotherapist Joseph Berke, Mary did survive the trauma and discovered the buried gift of painting.

"My paintings are an important part of my life, which lay buried for 42 years", she said.

She became a prolific painter and writer and exhibited her works in many parts of the world. Although in a wheelchair ill recent years, she continued to paint and travel all over the world lecturing and exhibiting her works.

She wrote two books, "Mary Barnes: Two Accounts of a Journey Through Madness', with Dr. Joseph Berke, which has been translated into several languages and "Something Sacred", a collection of poetry, paintings and reflections on mental illness and psychotherapy.

In 1979 David Edgar wrote a powerful play based on her experiences, first performed in 1978 at the Birmingham Repertoire Company, transferring to the Royal Court Theatre, London in January 1979, with Patty Love as Mary and Simon Callow as Joe Berke.

David Edgar adapted the play for radio and it has been broadcast on several occasions, and again Patty Love played Mary.

Mary was an extraordinary person, full of humour and vitality. Even at the age of 78 she continued to write and paint. She was a familiar sight in the village, paddling backwards in her wheelchair in the middle of the street.

Here she found acceptance simply as Mary, with no one giving much thought to her background- that she had been a psychiatric cause celebre and a renowned artist. She took great interest in all mental health matters and showed great empathy with all those who were going through a difficult time.

She was also very keen to encourage young people and young artists. At her exhibition In Tomintoul In 1993 the invited young Moray artists to exhibit in the small hall, while her works were exhibited in the larger hall.

Mary was a devout Catholic and religious themes appear frequently in her paintings. Her vibrant powerful images show her to be one of the unique talents of our times and her life wonderfully demonstrates the resilience of the human spirit.

Her funeral was from the Chapel at Falkland Palace on July 5. The celebrant was the Tomintoul priest the Rev Colin Stewart.

A well-attended ecumenical memorial service was held In Tomintoul parish Church on July 6.
Sven Bjarnason