Mary Seton Watts (1849–1938)
Mary Seton Fraser Tytler was born in India on 25 November 1849. Her father Charles worked for the Honourable East India Company’s civil service and her mother Ethel died when Mary was in her infancy. After this tragedy, Mary and her two elder sisters moved back to live with their grandparents at Aldourie Castle, near Dores, on the banks of Loch Ness. Mary was educated and cared for by governesses until 1861, when her father returned from India with his second wife and the family moved to nearby Sanquhar. Mary pursued an artistic education in Dresden and at the National Art Training School in South Kensington. From 1872 to 1873 she studied at the Slade School of Art where the sculptor Aimé-Jules Dalou (1838–1902) was teaching the art of clay modelling. Mary’s terracotta sculpture Mother and Child (c.1873–79) has parallels with her teacher’s work with its focus on naturalist domestic scenes.
Mary first met Watts in 1870 and he became an unofficial tutor to her. As time passed, Mary began to see Watts as more than a teacher, and by the early 1880s her feelings had developed to such an extent that she exclaimed to him: ‘Signor I think I have been looking for you my whole life.’ After his initial discouragement of her affections, Mary became heavily involved in the Home Arts and Industries Association. Under a scheme set up by Reverend Samuel Barnett (1844–1913) she ran clay-modelling classes twice a week for shoeblack boys at St Jude’s in Whitechapel. However, by 1886 Watts had realized that he and Mary made a suitable match and on 20 November the couple were married in Epsom, Surrey.
On their return from their honeymoon the couple resided at Watts’s home and studio, the new Little Holland House on Melbury Road in Kensington. Mary did not produce any art during this period, but with the move to Limnerslease in Compton, Surrey, in 1891 she became happier, more settled and artistically prolific. During the years 1891–96 Mary added numerous decorative features to her home.
In 1894 when Compton Parish bought land on Budburrow Hill for a new cemetery, Mary began to make designs for a cemetery chapel. By 1895 she was holding Thursday-evening ‘Terra Cotta Home Arts’ classes for the local villagers in order to make the exterior decorations for the chapel.