The Ackland and Edwards archive tells us how Mary Stella Edwards’ love of writing and art began in her early childhood. Correspondence between Mary Stella and her parents shows how her artistic passions were fully supported by both, especially her father who was by profession an architect. Holidays snaps and Mary Stella’s diaries show the family exploring the Lake District, Snowdonia, Devon and touring parts of Scotland. Walking those landscapes was invariably accompanied by photography and sketching. These working holidays were continued on many occasions with Judith, and the results of which were exhibited widely.
Mary Stella was educated at the Welsh Girl’s School in Ashford and later studied art at Battersea and Regent Street Polytechnic. Sketchbooks and loose work show how Mary Stella explored drawing, printmaking, illustration and watercolour painting while at college – as well as literary pursuits – during her time there. She was part of many artistic societies, and kept in touch with many of the fellow students she befriended during her time there.
As a professional artist, Mary Stella exhibited her watercolours in many exhibitions between 1920 and 1970s when her focus turned to curate a memorial exhibition commemorating the life and work of Judith Ackland. She was a member of the Sketch Club in London and made frequent visits to the London galleries, theatres and museums throughout the year – using museums for research when working on book illustrations, Jackanda model backgrounds and book covers. It wasn’t until just prior to the Second World War, between 1934 and 1935 that Mary Stella Edwards had her first and only solo exhibitions at the Abbey Galleries in London showing landscapes from North Devon, Wales and the Lake District. This was followed by a joint exhibition the following year with Judith.
Marked catalogues within the archive documents show the many exhibitions both artists contributed to during their later lives. Between the 1950s and Judith’s death in the early 1970s, Mary Stella exhibited her work and Judith’s widely in London galleries. London exhibitions included the New English Art Club, Open Exhibition of the Art Federation, Britain in Watercolour, The Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolour, the Society of Women Artists as well as Bradford City Art Gallery.