INTERVIEW WITH MARY BROWN Artist, Curator and Educator
By Kate St James

Mary Brown in her sitting room/library

Mary Brown has been an inspirational art and design educator throughout her life, including teaching Catherine Whitting and Greg Natale (and countless current art and design professionals ) in the early 90’s and inspiring them to follow their passions in design education and interior design. Her love of colour, interior design, fashion and textiles has inspired the lives of many an uncertain student to embark on careers in art, design and education.

It was so humbling to have our Designer Rugs Tiger Lily custom coloured rug chosen by Mary to grace the floor of her art filled living room. Read Mary’s story of influence here.

What is your background? Can you provide highlights from your career?

I was constantly drawing and designing as a child and teenager. I looked forward to every Christmas and birthday because I would receive a box of new pastels with accompanying book of dark grey pastel papers. Colours positively glowed on this paper. Before the age of ten I was obsessively designing houses and their interiors, even in the school classroom. This came from hovering around my father as he designed what would qualify today as very contemporary mid-century houses. He taught me the skills and legends for drawing architectural and interior designs. My teachers never prevented me from drawing and designing in class because it was not done at the expense of my other work. The Infants headmistress ‘commissioned’ me to enlarge one of my ‘narrative’ drawings of animals dressed in clothes for her. My Primary School headmaster asked to see my architectural drawings and told me I was destined to be an architect!

I attended Taree High School and had the most supportive art teacher for the entire five years – Mrs Mabel Watman. My artistic endeavours were now poured into painting and printing which covered art and designer disciplines for me. She encouraged idiosyncratic expression in art as well as leading me into designing repeat patterns for textiles. Some of these were screen printed on fabric. I only have memories of these patterns. They certainly had that mid-century aesthetic.

I won an Art Teachers Scholarship based on my Leaving results. I went to the Newcastle National Art School. We sketched and painted in our first two years and in the last two years other fields like printing, sculpture, architectural model making and ceramics were introduced. My architectural models were acquired by the National Art School, my monumental concrete and vermiculite sculpture was installed in the grounds of the School (could be seen from Hunter Street!) for a few years and my huge screen printed banner embellished with embroidery in my graduate exhibition won a prize which had a monetary reward.

On graduating I worked at Tamworth High School for a year, gave birth to our son Nicolas and then left for the UK when he was 3 months old. My husband was on a scholarship to study electrical engineering. Soon after our return home we moved to Sydney and within the year I had commenced my 22 years of working as a Visual Art teacher in Senior Catholic Colleges – Benilde Senior High, Nazareth Senior College and John Paul II Senior High. Working at these three schools gave me the most rewarding years of my teaching career. I did not have to concern myself with classroom management. I just had the joy of working with them and for them. Every year there were works held back for possible inclusion in Art express with at least one work exhibited every year. In my own practice during those years I painted with oils and acrylics and printed. I did etching for many years at the Willoughby Art Centre.

When Art Wearables were introduced into the HSC Visual Arts syllabus as an Expressive Form, I became interested in embroidery again. This led me to doing the Certificated Course at the Royal School of Needlework at Hampton Court Palace in 2000-2001. Philip, my husband, bought a little maisonette for us in Thames Ditton, a village on the Thames River opposite the Palace. We returned to live in the village when I was researching goldwork embroidery in the UK and Europe.  I eventually published a book on this form of embroidery in 2007.

In 2007 I was approached to work as a sessional lecturer in the Fashion and Textile Department at the University of Technology, Sydney. Alison Gwilt, the Course Director, became aware of me through my work that year at the Powerhouse Museum. Alastair McLeod, the Chairman of Hand & Lock, the largest embroidery firm in the UK, had asked me to be their person ‘on the ground’ to liaise with the Universities and Colleges in Australia and the Powerhouse Museum in the planning of an Australasian Embroidery Conference to be held at the latter at the end of 2007. As a guest curator at the Powerhouse Museum, I also curated an exhibition of work generated by Hand & Lock. I enjoyed working at UTS for ten years.

Since 2005, I have been a tutor at the Embroiderers Guild NSW. Initially it was expected of me to create designs for workshops which would be slavishly copied. As an artist I wanted to help students to create their own unique works and gradually I introduced creative workshops. They were well received by the members. However, I so longed for a platform to talk about art and design to give members the ‘tools’ to create embroidered art or design objects. I designed a Course for the Guild that would deliver that for me – the Contemporary Stitch & Design Course. It is a two year modular course. I am the coordinator and I deliver the first module in the course which sets them up for the stitching modules which are delivered by other Guild tutors. My module introduces students to four different methodologies for making art. We are in the second round of this course and it has generated research based cultural and historical works, formalist and expressive works as well as the very explorative materials & process works. This course is open to non-members as well.

What makes your work unique

I create embroidered figurative art works carrying meaning or conveying a narrative. This would appear to be a unique choice of content for an embroidery when the public generally associates embroideries with the depiction of flowers, adorable animals and birds and idyllic scenes on a small scale. Historically embroidered works were ambitious, figurative art works. We are now seeing a revival of embroidered works in Contemporary Fine Arts. For example, in the Cornelia Parker exhibition at the Sydney MCA last year, there was a totally embroidered installation work based on the Magna Carta. Every Biennale or Triennale I have visited in recent years, here in Australia and overseas, features embroidered works.

I do have a recognisable aesthetic, especially in the way I draw figures. I tend to exaggerate. My colour schemes are always excessively polychromatic, even when I do goldwork embroidery. The designs for fashion conforms to this aesthetic if they are figurative. If not, they are highly textured and purely ornamental. This is my point of difference, especially in goldwork embroidery.

Deconstructed Iconograpy

Is your work informed by certain concepts or themes. 

My work is informed by themes, mostly drawn from the fashion system and religious iconography. Both are compelling for me because of their sumptuousness and inherent decorativeness. Currently as an artist curator I am exploring the narratives of powerful, innovative and creative women that have been overlooked by mainstream history, from the Byzantine period through to the 21st century for a body of work to be exhibited at Gallery76 (Embroiderers N.S.W.’s gallery) at the end of 2021. I am collaborating with three other artists.

Untitled

What does your work aim to say?

The output of embroidered works is generally contributed to female creativity and decoration and patterns are coded as being female. Even though these popularly held views are erroneous, I do not eschew these gender associations – I embrace and celebrate them in my art and design as a female artist.

Who, if any, are your biggest influences?

The exquisitely stitched large scale works which honoured the rich history of ecclesiastical works by the renowned 20th century English embroiderer Beryl Dean enthral me the most. She was the consummate designer who created the most harmonious compositions populated with formal figures and exhibiting a proliferation of patterns. I am also drawn to the chaotic and painterly and more intimate embroidered works by the contemporary American artist Sophia Narrett. Her artworks are informed by popular culture. They are not my only inspirational artists, but they show that I love disparity.

Untitled

What current art world trends are you following?

The current zeitgeist in the visual arts is to research historical narratives and re-present them to viewers in new contexts. I am particularly interested in researched–based installations, especially those that delve into post-colonial histories in all colonised parts of the world, as well as historical and contemporary cultural fields, as in the work by the two Australian artists, Joan Ross and Sally Smart.

I find the forms, textures and colour in contemporary interactive formalist works, as in Emily Floyd’s and Mikala Dwyer’s installations, very seductive. There is also a resurgence of the 1970s Pattern and Decoration Movement that I am following.

I buy art journals (I have an extensive library in my living room and studio) to keep abreast of emerging artists and contemporary art as well and visiting gallery exhibitions in Australia and internationally feeds the soul.

Explain your relationship to the designer of your stunning dining room rug and why it’s special.

Catherine Whitting (nee Albany) was my very memorable student in the 1990-91 cohort at Nazareth Senior College. She was such an engaging student and she was blessed with exceptional conceptual and technical skills. The 2 Unit and 3 Unit works she presented for the HSC were held back for possible inclusion in Artexpress. It was decided that her 2-Unit work was too fragile to travel regionally to be included but her 3-Unit work was exhibited. We have remained in contact with each other in the three decades since she did the HSC, as a precious friend and colleague. To be asked by Catherine and Kate to curate the St James Whitting exhibition at the Gang Gang Gallery in Lithgow last year was such an honour and a joy for me. On entering the exhibition, the rug that greeted viewers immediately became my ‘must have’ for our dining room.

Catherine Whitting and Mary Brown

Why did you select this design and how did you find the process of re-selecting colours?

Primarily I chose it because I love organic and camouflage patterns. We have Vitra’s Eames chairs around our dining room table and these are organic in form so I made that rather lovely connection immediately. Then there was the colour palette of this rug that almost gave me a Stendahl episode! The pink and the white were going to work beautifully in the dining room but there were colours that had to be taken away for it to be a perfect fit in that room. Catherine and I went to Designer Rugs, who makes the Elementals Collection by St James Whitting, and together we chose the ‘replacement’ colours, which are different from the original design and can be coloured to suit individual schemes. I carried the colours of the paintings in our dining room in my head to be used with the original pink and white in the rug. We arrived at a dynamic colour palette that relates to the dining room paintings as well as the tub chairs in the living/library room. This St James Whitting rug is precious to me because it was designed by Catherine and it provides me with a visual feast every day. I will never tire of that sensation.



DINING ROOM & LIBRARY
Tiger Lilly rug from the St James Whitting Elementals Collection by Designer Rugs, hand tufted in 100% New Zealand wool with bamboo highlights from Designer Rugs.   Timber dining table, with Eames chairs by Vitra from Livingedge.com.au

Selecting the wool tufts to custom colour the St James Whitting Tiger Lily rug

Original works by Mary Brown marybrowndesigns.com




INTERVIEW WITH MARY BROWN Artist, Curator and Educator
By Kate St James

Mary Brown in her sitting room/library

Mary Brown has been an inspirational art and design educator throughout her life, including teaching Catherine Whitting and Greg Natale (and countless current art and design professionals ) in the early 90’s and inspiring them to follow their passions in design education and interior design. Her love of colour, interior design, fashion and textiles has inspired the lives of many an uncertain student to embark on careers in art, design and education.

It was so humbling to have our Designer Rugs Tiger Lily custom coloured rug chosen by Mary to grace the floor of her art filled living room. Read Kate’s interview and Mary’s story of influence here.

What is your background? Can you provide highlights from your career?

I was constantly drawing and designing as a child and teenager. I looked forward to every Christmas and birthday because I would receive a box of new pastels with accompanying book of dark grey pastel papers. Colours positively glowed on this paper. Before the age of ten I was obsessively designing houses and their interiors, even in the school classroom. This came from hovering around my father as he designed what would qualify today as very contemporary mid-century houses. He taught me the skills and legends for drawing architectural and interior designs. My teachers never prevented me from drawing and designing in class because it was not done at the expense of my other work. The Infants headmistress ‘commissioned’ me to enlarge one of my ‘narrative’ drawings of animals dressed in clothes for her. My Primary School headmaster asked to see my architectural drawings and told me I was destined to be an architect!

I attended Taree High School and had the most supportive art teacher for the entire five years – Mrs Mabel Watman. My artistic endeavours were now poured into painting and printing which covered art and designer disciplines for me. She encouraged idiosyncratic expression in art as well as leading me into designing repeat patterns for textiles. Some of these were screen printed on fabric. I only have memories of these patterns. They certainly had that mid-century aesthetic.

I won an Art Teachers Scholarship based on my Leaving results. I went to the Newcastle National Art School. We sketched and painted in our first two years and in the last two years other fields like printing, sculpture, architectural model making and ceramics were introduced. My architectural models were acquired by the National Art School, my monumental concrete and vermiculite sculpture was installed in the grounds of the School (could be seen from Hunter Street!) for a few years and my huge screen printed banner embellished with embroidery in my graduate exhibition won a prize which had a monetary reward.

On graduating I worked at Tamworth High School for a year, gave birth to our son Nicolas and then left for the UK when he was 3 months old. My husband was on a scholarship to study electrical engineering. Soon after our return home we moved to Sydney and within the year I had commenced my 22 years of working as a Visual Art teacher in Senior Catholic Colleges – Benilde Senior High, Nazareth Senior College and John Paul II Senior High. Working at these three schools gave me the most rewarding years of my teaching career. I did not have to concern myself with classroom management. I just had the joy of working with them and for them. Every year there were works held back for possible inclusion in Art express with at least one work exhibited every year. In my own practice during those years I painted with oils and acrylics and printed. I did etching for many years at the Willoughby Art Centre.

When Art Wearables were introduced into the HSC Visual Arts syllabus as an Expressive Form, I became interested in embroidery again. This led me to doing the Certificated Course at the Royal School of Needlework at Hampton Court Palace in 2000-2001. Philip, my husband, bought a little maisonette for us in Thames Ditton, a village on the Thames River opposite the Palace. We returned to live in the village when I was researching goldwork embroidery in the UK and Europe.  I eventually published a book on this form of embroidery in 2007.

In 2007 I was approached to work as a sessional lecturer in the Fashion and Textile Department at the University of Technology, Sydney. Alison Gwilt, the Course Director, became aware of me through my work that year at the Powerhouse Museum. Alastair McLeod, the Chairman of Hand & Lock, the largest embroidery firm in the UK, had asked me to be their person ‘on the ground’ to liaise with the Universities and Colleges in Australia and the Powerhouse Museum in the planning of an Australasian Embroidery Conference to be held at the latter at the end of 2007. As a guest curator at the Powerhouse Museum, I also curated an exhibition of work generated by Hand & Lock. I enjoyed working at UTS for ten years.

Since 2005, I have been a tutor at the Embroiderers Guild NSW. Initially it was expected of me to create designs for workshops which would be slavishly copied. As an artist I wanted to help students to create their own unique works and gradually I introduced creative workshops. They were well received by the members. However, I so longed for a platform to talk about art and design to give members the ‘tools’ to create embroidered art or design objects. I designed a Course for the Guild that would deliver that for me – the Contemporary Stitch & Design Course. It is a two year modular course. I am the coordinator and I deliver the first module in the course which sets them up for the stitching modules which are delivered by other Guild tutors. My module introduces students to four different methodologies for making art. We are in the second round of this course and it has generated research based cultural and historical works, formalist and expressive works as well as the very explorative materials & process works. This course is open to non-members as well.

What makes your work unique

I create embroidered figurative art works carrying meaning or conveying a narrative. This would appear to be a unique choice of content for an embroidery when the public generally associates embroideries with the depiction of flowers, adorable animals and birds and idyllic scenes on a small scale. Historically embroidered works were ambitious, figurative art works. We are now seeing a revival of embroidered works in Contemporary Fine Arts. For example, in the Cornelia Parker exhibition at the Sydney MCA last year, there was a totally embroidered installation work based on the Magna Carta. Every Biennale or Triennale I have visited in recent years, here in Australia and overseas, features embroidered works.

I do have a recognisable aesthetic, especially in the way I draw figures. I tend to exaggerate. My colour schemes are always excessively polychromatic, even when I do goldwork embroidery. The designs for fashion conforms to this aesthetic if they are figurative. If not, they are highly textured and purely ornamental. This is my point of difference, especially in goldwork embroidery.

Deconstructed Iconograpy

Is your work informed by certain concepts or themes. 

My work is informed by themes, mostly drawn from the fashion system and religious iconography. Both are compelling for me because of their sumptuousness and inherent decorativeness. Currently as an artist curator I am exploring the narratives of powerful, innovative and creative women that have been overlooked by mainstream history, from the Byzantine period through to the 21st century for a body of work to be exhibited at Gallery76 (Embroiderers N.S.W.’s gallery) at the end of 2021. I am collaborating with three other artists.

Untitled

What does your work aim to say?

The output of embroidered works is generally contributed to female creativity and decoration and patterns are coded as being female. Even though these popularly held views are erroneous, I do not eschew these gender associations – I embrace and celebrate them in my art and design as a female artist.

Who, if any, are your biggest influences?

The exquisitely stitched large scale works which honoured the rich history of ecclesiastical works by the renowned 20th century English embroiderer Beryl Dean enthral me the most. She was the consummate designer who created the most harmonious compositions populated with formal figures and exhibiting a proliferation of patterns. I am also drawn to the chaotic and painterly and more intimate embroidered works by the contemporary American artist Sophia Narrett. Her artworks are informed by popular culture. They are not my only inspirational artists, but they show that I love disparity.

Untitled

What current art world trends are you following?

The current zeitgeist in the visual arts is to research historical narratives and re-present them to viewers in new contexts. I am particularly interested in researched–based installations, especially those that delve into post-colonial histories in all colonised parts of the world, as well as historical and contemporary cultural fields, as in the work by the two Australian artists, Joan Ross and Sally Smart.

I find the forms, textures and colour in contemporary interactive formalist works, as in Emily Floyd’s and Mikala Dwyer’s installations, very seductive. There is also a resurgence of the 1970s Pattern and Decoration Movement that I am following.

I buy art journals (I have an extensive library in my living room and studio) to keep abreast of emerging artists and contemporary art as well and visiting gallery exhibitions in Australia and internationally feeds the soul.

Explain your relationship to the designer of your stunning dining room rug and why it’s special.

Catherine Whitting (nee Albany) was my very memorable student in the 1990-91 cohort at Nazareth Senior College. She was such an engaging student and she was blessed with exceptional conceptual and technical skills. The 2 Unit and 3 Unit works she presented for the HSC were held back for possible inclusion in Artexpress. It was decided that her 2-Unit work was too fragile to travel regionally to be included but her 3-Unit work was exhibited. We have remained in contact with each other in the three decades since she did the HSC, as a precious friend and colleague. To be asked by Catherine and Kate to curate the St James Whitting exhibition at the Gang Gang Gallery in Lithgow last year was such an honour and a joy for me. On entering the exhibition, the rug that greeted viewers immediately became my ‘must have’ for our dining room.

Catherine Whitting and Mary Brown

Why did you select this design and how did you find the process of re-selecting colours?

Primarily I chose it because I love organic and camouflage patterns. We have Vitra’s Eames chairs around our dining room table and these are organic in form so I made that rather lovely connection immediately. Then there was the colour palette of this rug that almost gave me a Stendahl episode! The pink and the white were going to work beautifully in the dining room but there were colours that had to be taken away for it to be a perfect fit in that room. Catherine and I went to Designer Rugs, who makes the Elementals Collection by St James Whitting, and together we chose the ‘replacement’ colours, which are different from the original design and can be coloured to suit individual schemes. I carried the colours of the paintings in our dining room in my head to be used with the original pink and white in the rug. We arrived at a dynamic colour palette that relates to the dining room paintings as well as the tub chairs in the living/library room. This St James Whitting rug is precious to me because it was designed by Catherine and it provides me with a visual feast every day. I will never tire of that sensation.



DINING ROOM & LIBRARY
Tiger Lilly rug from the St James Whitting Elementals Collection by Designer Rugs, hand tufted in 100% New Zealand wool with bamboo highlights from Designer Rugs.   Timber dining table, with Eames chairs by Vitra from Livingedge.com.au

Selecting the wool tufts to custom colour the St James Whitting Tiger Lily rug

Original works by Mary Brown marybrowndesigns.com




INTERVIEW WITH MARY BROWN Artist, Curator and Educator
By Kate St James

Mary Brown in her sitting room/library

Mary Brown has been an inspirational art and design educator throughout her life, including teaching Catherine Whitting and Greg Natale (and countless current art and design professionals ) in the early 90’s and inspiring them to follow their passions in design education and interior design. Her love of colour, interior design, fashion and textiles has inspired the lives of many an uncertain student to embark on careers in art, design and education.

It was so humbling to have our Designer Rugs Tiger Lily custom coloured rug chosen by Mary to grace the floor of her art filled living room. Read Kate’s interview and Mary’s story of influence here.

What is your background? Can you provide highlights from your career?

I was constantly drawing and designing as a child and teenager. I looked forward to every Christmas and birthday because I would receive a box of new pastels with accompanying book of dark grey pastel papers. Colours positively glowed on this paper. Before the age of ten I was obsessively designing houses and their interiors, even in the school classroom. This came from hovering around my father as he designed what would qualify today as very contemporary mid-century houses. He taught me the skills and legends for drawing architectural and interior designs. My teachers never prevented me from drawing and designing in class because it was not done at the expense of my other work. The Infants headmistress ‘commissioned’ me to enlarge one of my ‘narrative’ drawings of animals dressed in clothes for her. My Primary School headmaster asked to see my architectural drawings and told me I was destined to be an architect!

I attended Taree High School and had the most supportive art teacher for the entire five years – Mrs Mabel Watman. My artistic endeavours were now poured into painting and printing which covered art and designer disciplines for me. She encouraged idiosyncratic expression in art as well as leading me into designing repeat patterns for textiles. Some of these were screen printed on fabric. I only have memories of these patterns. They certainly had that mid-century aesthetic.

I won an Art Teachers Scholarship based on my Leaving results. I went to the Newcastle National Art School. We sketched and painted in our first two years and in the last two years other fields like printing, sculpture, architectural model making and ceramics were introduced. My architectural models were acquired by the National Art School, my monumental concrete and vermiculite sculpture was installed in the grounds of the School (could be seen from Hunter Street!) for a few years and my huge screen printed banner embellished with embroidery in my graduate exhibition won a prize which had a monetary reward.

On graduating I worked at Tamworth High School for a year, gave birth to our son Nicolas and then left for the UK when he was 3 months old. My husband was on a scholarship to study electrical engineering. Soon after our return home we moved to Sydney and within the year I had commenced my 22 years of working as a Visual Art teacher in Senior Catholic Colleges – Benilde Senior High, Nazareth Senior College and John Paul II Senior High. Working at these three schools gave me the most rewarding years of my teaching career. I did not have to concern myself with classroom management. I just had the joy of working with them and for them. Every year there were works held back for possible inclusion in Art express with at least one work exhibited every year. In my own practice during those years I painted with oils and acrylics and printed. I did etching for many years at the Willoughby Art Centre.

When Art Wearables were introduced into the HSC Visual Arts syllabus as an Expressive Form, I became interested in embroidery again. This led me to doing the Certificated Course at the Royal School of Needlework at Hampton Court Palace in 2000-2001. Philip, my husband, bought a little maisonette for us in Thames Ditton, a village on the Thames River opposite the Palace. We returned to live in the village when I was researching goldwork embroidery in the UK and Europe.  I eventually published a book on this form of embroidery in 2007.

In 2007 I was approached to work as a sessional lecturer in the Fashion and Textile Department at the University of Technology, Sydney. Alison Gwilt, the Course Director, became aware of me through my work that year at the Powerhouse Museum. Alastair McLeod, the Chairman of Hand & Lock, the largest embroidery firm in the UK, had asked me to be their person ‘on the ground’ to liaise with the Universities and Colleges in Australia and the Powerhouse Museum in the planning of an Australasian Embroidery Conference to be held at the latter at the end of 2007. As a guest curator at the Powerhouse Museum, I also curated an exhibition of work generated by Hand & Lock. I enjoyed working at UTS for ten years.

Since 2005, I have been a tutor at the Embroiderers Guild NSW. Initially it was expected of me to create designs for workshops which would be slavishly copied. As an artist I wanted to help students to create their own unique works and gradually I introduced creative workshops. They were well received by the members. However, I so longed for a platform to talk about art and design to give members the ‘tools’ to create embroidered art or design objects. I designed a Course for the Guild that would deliver that for me – the Contemporary Stitch & Design Course. It is a two year modular course. I am the coordinator and I deliver the first module in the course which sets them up for the stitching modules which are delivered by other Guild tutors. My module introduces students to four different methodologies for making art. We are in the second round of this course and it has generated research based cultural and historical works, formalist and expressive works as well as the very explorative materials & process works. This course is open to non-members as well.

What makes your work unique

I create embroidered figurative art works carrying meaning or conveying a narrative. This would appear to be a unique choice of content for an embroidery when the public generally associates embroideries with the depiction of flowers, adorable animals and birds and idyllic scenes on a small scale. Historically embroidered works were ambitious, figurative art works. We are now seeing a revival of embroidered works in Contemporary Fine Arts. For example, in the Cornelia Parker exhibition at the Sydney MCA last year, there was a totally embroidered installation work based on the Magna Carta. Every Biennale or Triennale I have visited in recent years, here in Australia and overseas, features embroidered works.

I do have a recognisable aesthetic, especially in the way I draw figures. I tend to exaggerate. My colour schemes are always excessively polychromatic, even when I do goldwork embroidery. The designs for fashion conforms to this aesthetic if they are figurative. If not, they are highly textured and purely ornamental. This is my point of difference, especially in goldwork embroidery.

Deconstructed Iconograpy

Is your work informed by certain concepts or themes. 

My work is informed by themes, mostly drawn from the fashion system and religious iconography. Both are compelling for me because of their sumptuousness and inherent decorativeness. Currently as an artist curator I am exploring the narratives of powerful, innovative and creative women that have been overlooked by mainstream history, from the Byzantine period through to the 21st century for a body of work to be exhibited at Gallery76 (Embroiderers N.S.W.’s gallery) at the end of 2021. I am collaborating with three other artists.

Untitled

What does your work aim to say?

The output of embroidered works is generally contributed to female creativity and decoration and patterns are coded as being female. Even though these popularly held views are erroneous, I do not eschew these gender associations – I embrace and celebrate them in my art and design as a female artist.

Who, if any, are your biggest influences?

The exquisitely stitched large scale works which honoured the rich history of ecclesiastical works by the renowned 20th century English embroiderer Beryl Dean enthral me the most. She was the consummate designer who created the most harmonious compositions populated with formal figures and exhibiting a proliferation of patterns. I am also drawn to the chaotic and painterly and more intimate embroidered works by the contemporary American artist Sophia Narrett. Her artworks are informed by popular culture. They are not my only inspirational artists, but they show that I love disparity.

Untitled

What current art world trends are you following?

The current zeitgeist in the visual arts is to research historical narratives and re-present them to viewers in new contexts. I am particularly interested in researched–based installations, especially those that delve into post-colonial histories in all colonised parts of the world, as well as historical and contemporary cultural fields, as in the work by the two Australian artists, Joan Ross and Sally Smart.

I find the forms, textures and colour in contemporary interactive formalist works, as in Emily Floyd’s and Mikala Dwyer’s installations, very seductive. There is also a resurgence of the 1970s Pattern and Decoration Movement that I am following.

I buy art journals (I have an extensive library in my living room and studio) to keep abreast of emerging artists and contemporary art as well and visiting gallery exhibitions in Australia and internationally feeds the soul.

Explain your relationship to the designer of your stunning dining room rug and why it’s special.

Catherine Whitting (nee Albany) was my very memorable student in the 1990-91 cohort at Nazareth Senior College. She was such an engaging student and she was blessed with exceptional conceptual and technical skills. The 2 Unit and 3 Unit works she presented for the HSC were held back for possible inclusion in Artexpress. It was decided that her 2-Unit work was too fragile to travel regionally to be included but her 3-Unit work was exhibited. We have remained in contact with each other in the three decades since she did the HSC, as a precious friend and colleague. To be asked by Catherine and Kate to curate the St James Whitting exhibition at the Gang Gang Gallery in Lithgow last year was such an honour and a joy for me. On entering the exhibition, the rug that greeted viewers immediately became my ‘must have’ for our dining room.

Catherine Whitting and Mary Brown

Why did you select this design and how did you find the process of re-selecting colours?

Primarily I chose it because I love organic and camouflage patterns. We have Vitra’s Eames chairs around our dining room table and these are organic in form so I made that rather lovely connection immediately. Then there was the colour palette of this rug that almost gave me a Stendahl episode! The pink and the white were going to work beautifully in the dining room but there were colours that had to be taken away for it to be a perfect fit in that room. Catherine and I went to Designer Rugs, who makes the Elementals Collection by St James Whitting, and together we chose the ‘replacement’ colours, which are different from the original design and can be coloured to suit individual schemes. I carried the colours of the paintings in our dining room in my head to be used with the original pink and white in the rug. We arrived at a dynamic colour palette that relates to the dining room paintings as well as the tub chairs in the living/library room. This St James Whitting rug is precious to me because it was designed by Catherine and it provides me with a visual feast every day. I will never tire of that sensation.



DINING ROOM & LIBRARY
Tiger Lilly rug from the St James Whitting Elementals Collection by Designer Rugs, hand tufted in 100% New Zealand wool with bamboo highlights from Designer Rugs.   Timber dining table, with Eames chairs by Vitra from Livingedge.com.au

Selecting the wool tufts to custom colour the St James Whitting Tiger Lily rug

Original works by Mary Brown marybrowndesigns.com




INTERVIEW WITH MARY BROWN Artist, Curator and Educator
By Kate St James
Photography Marian Riabic

Mary Brown in her sitting room/library

Mary Brown has been an inspirational art and design educator throughout her life, including teaching Catherine Whitting and Greg Natale (and countless current art and design professionals ) in the early 90’s and inspiring them to follow their passions in design education and interior design. Her love of colour, interior design, fashion and textiles has inspired the lives of many an uncertain student to embark on careers in art, design and education.

It was so humbling to have our Designer Rugs Tiger Lily custom coloured rug chosen by Mary to grace the floor of her art filled living room. Read Kate’s interview and Mary’s story of influence here.

What is your background? Can you provide highlights from your career?

I was constantly drawing and designing as a child and teenager. I looked forward to every Christmas and birthday because I would receive a box of new pastels with accompanying book of dark grey pastel papers. Colours positively glowed on this paper. Before the age of ten I was obsessively designing houses and their interiors, even in the school classroom. This came from hovering around my father as he designed what would qualify today as very contemporary mid-century houses. He taught me the skills and legends for drawing architectural and interior designs. My teachers never prevented me from drawing and designing in class because it was not done at the expense of my other work. The Infants headmistress ‘commissioned’ me to enlarge one of my ‘narrative’ drawings of animals dressed in clothes for her. My Primary School headmaster asked to see my architectural drawings and told me I was destined to be an architect!

I attended Taree High School and had the most supportive art teacher for the entire five years – Mrs Mabel Watman. My artistic endeavours were now poured into painting and printing which covered art and designer disciplines for me. She encouraged idiosyncratic expression in art as well as leading me into designing repeat patterns for textiles. Some of these were screen printed on fabric. I only have memories of these patterns. They certainly had that mid-century aesthetic.

I won an Art Teachers Scholarship based on my Leaving results. I went to the Newcastle National Art School. We sketched and painted in our first two years and in the last two years other fields like printing, sculpture, architectural model making and ceramics were introduced. My architectural models were acquired by the National Art School, my monumental concrete and vermiculite sculpture was installed in the grounds of the School (could be seen from Hunter Street!) for a few years and my huge screen printed banner embellished with embroidery in my graduate exhibition won a prize which had a monetary reward.

On graduating I worked at Tamworth High School for a year, gave birth to our son Nicolas and then left for the UK when he was 3 months old. My husband was on a scholarship to study electrical engineering. Soon after our return home we moved to Sydney and within the year I had commenced my 22 years of working as a Visual Art teacher in Senior Catholic Colleges – Benilde Senior High, Nazareth Senior College and John Paul II Senior High. Working at these three schools gave me the most rewarding years of my teaching career. I did not have to concern myself with classroom management. I just had the joy of working with them and for them. Every year there were works held back for possible inclusion in Art express with at least one work exhibited every year. In my own practice during those years I painted with oils and acrylics and printed. I did etching for many years at the Willoughby Art Centre.

When Art Wearables were introduced into the HSC Visual Arts syllabus as an Expressive Form, I became interested in embroidery again. This led me to doing the Certificated Course at the Royal School of Needlework at Hampton Court Palace in 2000-2001. Philip, my husband, bought a little maisonette for us in Thames Ditton, a village on the Thames River opposite the Palace. We returned to live in the village when I was researching goldwork embroidery in the UK and Europe.  I eventually published a book on this form of embroidery in 2007.

In 2007 I was approached to work as a sessional lecturer in the Fashion and Textile Department at the University of Technology, Sydney. Alison Gwilt, the Course Director, became aware of me through my work that year at the Powerhouse Museum. Alastair McLeod, the Chairman of Hand & Lock, the largest embroidery firm in the UK, had asked me to be their person ‘on the ground’ to liaise with the Universities and Colleges in Australia and the Powerhouse Museum in the planning of an Australasian Embroidery Conference to be held at the latter at the end of 2007. As a guest curator at the Powerhouse Museum, I also curated an exhibition of work generated by Hand & Lock. I enjoyed working at UTS for ten years.

Since 2005, I have been a tutor at the Embroiderers Guild NSW. Initially it was expected of me to create designs for workshops which would be slavishly copied. As an artist I wanted to help students to create their own unique works and gradually I introduced creative workshops. They were well received by the members. However, I so longed for a platform to talk about art and design to give members the ‘tools’ to create embroidered art or design objects. I designed a Course for the Guild that would deliver that for me – the Contemporary Stitch & Design Course. It is a two year modular course. I am the coordinator and I deliver the first module in the course which sets them up for the stitching modules which are delivered by other Guild tutors. My module introduces students to four different methodologies for making art. We are in the second round of this course and it has generated research based cultural and historical works, formalist and expressive works as well as the very explorative materials & process works. This course is open to non-members as well.

What makes your work unique

I create embroidered figurative art works carrying meaning or conveying a narrative. This would appear to be a unique choice of content for an embroidery when the public generally associates embroideries with the depiction of flowers, adorable animals and birds and idyllic scenes on a small scale. Historically embroidered works were ambitious, figurative art works. We are now seeing a revival of embroidered works in Contemporary Fine Arts. For example, in the Cornelia Parker exhibition at the Sydney MCA last year, there was a totally embroidered installation work based on the Magna Carta. Every Biennale or Triennale I have visited in recent years, here in Australia and overseas, features embroidered works.

I do have a recognisable aesthetic, especially in the way I draw figures. I tend to exaggerate. My colour schemes are always excessively polychromatic, even when I do goldwork embroidery. The designs for fashion conforms to this aesthetic if they are figurative. If not, they are highly textured and purely ornamental. This is my point of difference, especially in goldwork embroidery.

Deconstructed Iconograpy

Is your work informed by certain concepts or themes. 

My work is informed by themes, mostly drawn from the fashion system and religious iconography. Both are compelling for me because of their sumptuousness and inherent decorativeness. Currently as an artist curator I am exploring the narratives of powerful, innovative and creative women that have been overlooked by mainstream history, from the Byzantine period through to the 21st century for a body of work to be exhibited at Gallery76 (Embroiderers N.S.W.’s gallery) at the end of 2021. I am collaborating with three other artists.

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What does your work aim to say?

The output of embroidered works is generally contributed to female creativity and decoration and patterns are coded as being female. Even though these popularly held views are erroneous, I do not eschew these gender associations – I embrace and celebrate them in my art and design as a female artist.

Who, if any, are your biggest influences?

The exquisitely stitched large scale works which honoured the rich history of ecclesiastical works by the renowned 20th century English embroiderer Beryl Dean enthral me the most. She was the consummate designer who created the most harmonious compositions populated with formal figures and exhibiting a proliferation of patterns. I am also drawn to the chaotic and painterly and more intimate embroidered works by the contemporary American artist Sophia Narrett. Her artworks are informed by popular culture. They are not my only inspirational artists, but they show that I love disparity.

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What current art world trends are you following?

The current zeitgeist in the visual arts is to research historical narratives and re-present them to viewers in new contexts. I am particularly interested in researched–based installations, especially those that delve into post-colonial histories in all colonised parts of the world, as well as historical and contemporary cultural fields, as in the work by the two Australian artists, Joan Ross and Sally Smart.

I find the forms, textures and colour in contemporary interactive formalist works, as in Emily Floyd’s and Mikala Dwyer’s installations, very seductive. There is also a resurgence of the 1970s Pattern and Decoration Movement that I am following.

I buy art journals (I have an extensive library in my living room and studio) to keep abreast of emerging artists and contemporary art as well and visiting gallery exhibitions in Australia and internationally feeds the soul.

Explain your relationship to the designer of your stunning dining room rug and why it’s special.

Catherine Whitting (nee Albany) was my very memorable student in the 1990-91 cohort at Nazareth Senior College. She was such an engaging student and she was blessed with exceptional conceptual and technical skills. The 2 Unit and 3 Unit works she presented for the HSC were held back for possible inclusion in Artexpress. It was decided that her 2-Unit work was too fragile to travel regionally to be included but her 3-Unit work was exhibited. We have remained in contact with each other in the three decades since she did the HSC, as a precious friend and colleague. To be asked by Catherine and Kate to curate the St James Whitting exhibition at the Gang Gang Gallery in Lithgow last year was such an honour and a joy for me. On entering the exhibition, the rug that greeted viewers immediately became my ‘must have’ for our dining room.

Catherine Whitting and Mary Brown

Why did you select this design and how did you find the process of re-selecting colours?

Primarily I chose it because I love organic and camouflage patterns. We have Vitra’s Eames chairs around our dining room table and these are organic in form so I made that rather lovely connection immediately. Then there was the colour palette of this rug that almost gave me a Stendahl episode! The pink and the white were going to work beautifully in the dining room but there were colours that had to be taken away for it to be a perfect fit in that room. Catherine and I went to Designer Rugs, who makes the Elementals Collection by St James Whitting, and together we chose the ‘replacement’ colours, which are different from the original design and can be coloured to suit individual schemes. I carried the colours of the paintings in our dining room in my head to be used with the original pink and white in the rug. We arrived at a dynamic colour palette that relates to the dining room paintings as well as the tub chairs in the living/library room. This St James Whitting rug is precious to me because it was designed by Catherine and it provides me with a visual feast every day. I will never tire of that sensation.



DINING ROOM & LIBRARY
Tiger Lilly rug from the St James Whitting Elementals Collection by Designer Rugs, hand tufted in 100% New Zealand wool with bamboo highlights from Designer Rugs.   Timber dining table, with Eames chairs by Vitra from Livingedge.com.au

Selecting the wool tufts to custom colour the St James Whitting Tiger Lily rug

Original works by Mary Brown marybrowndesigns.com


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