Mary is an American writer and photographer based in Oxfordshire. She has quietly tracked curiosity down alleyways and across oceans. From a childhood spent in the deepest part of the South, the Panhandle of Florida, to wandering in the shadows of Oxford’s dreaming spires, she has carried with her a deep and abiding love for home, women’s stories, and the often overlooked objects that have ballasted the lives of women around the world for centuries.
A dusty vase rested on a cluttered junk shop shelf here in England. My mind said it was too ornate and old fashioned. I walked away from the blue and white vessel but I turned around and went back to it, like a moth to the flame. I brought it into our home. The vase was placed on a shelf. In the beginning it was observed from a distance but eventually it travelled to take center stage in a favoured room of our home. I kept an eye on it. The seasons past and it was filled with flowers from our garden and flowers from the wayside. The base was chipped when it was placed on the kitchen counter with a careless thud. I had been in a hurry to go somewhere. Our busy family swirled around the vessel as seasons came and went. In the ebb of a still moment my focused lens would soak up the porcelain shining in the light. Why did I pick you? Why do I like you? Then the tide of family life would wash over me and the moment would pass. I reasoned with myself. Blue and white is a classic combination. That should be that, but something whispered from deeper than the shallow waters I was treading in. This wasn’t just a blue and white vase. There was more to the object placed in front of me than I could see. This vessel had stories to tell. The story of my life and tribe and of lands just beyond our reach and imagination. The story of a fabricated class and racial structure in a New World that seemingly had none. The story of overlooked objects that were the soft power and ballast of Old Empires and New Worlds. The hidden story of the longing of generations of women to belong, define and counter balance themselves, in the ever shifting sea of their lives. The story of ballast, blue and white, buried in the hulls of ships that carried cotton, tea, sugar, seeds and souls over calm waters, rough seas and centuries. The story that whispers from the shelves of homes and museums that span the globe both old and new. The story impervious to time, the murky depths of an ocean or the dusty clutter of a junk shop shelf.