09 February 2019

9th February 1923 - Mary Barnes was born

Mary Barnes, nurse, artist, poet, and mental health healer, was born on February 9th 1923.

The story of Mary Barnes got peoples attention because of her years at Kingsley Hall (1965-1970) a therapeutic community set up by R.D Laing, the well known alternative psychiatrist.

That story has been told - in Mary Barnes: Two Accounts of a Journey Through Madness, which she wrote with Joseph Berke, her therapist; and in David Edgar’s 1979 play Mary Barnes,

Mary Barnes was a nurse who went into a Carmelite convent in Wales, had a breakdown and, after periods in mental hospitals, joined Kingsley Hall where, in the play (which I remember going to see at the Royal Court Theatre in 1979), she was allowed the freedom to go on her own unique journey of self discovery.

Mary regressed into an infantile state. She became uninhibited, needy and demanding. She would not eat sometimes, and she shocked the audience by painting faeces on walls and on her body.

This was the start of her art, and with the help of her therapist, she began to paint with paint and, as she got better, to offer her help to fellow residents.

Her art was exhibited widely.

Mary moved to Scotland where she continued to paint and write. A book of her work appeared under the title 'Something Sacred: conversations, writings, paintings.' It also described her involvement in other mental health oriented therapy groups, where she was the healer.

Late in life she was confined to a wheelchair, but continued to paint, and write until her death at the age of 78.

There is a Mary Barnes website that has lots more of her art, and writings and a series of national newspaper obituaries. Thanks to the Mary Barnes website for the date.

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