Mary Seton Watts (1849-1938)

Designer, Artist, Author and Joint Founder of Watts Gallery – Artists’ Village

Mary Watts (Courtesy of Watts Gallery - Artists' Village)

Mary Watts (Courtesy of Watts Gallery – Artists’ Village)

Mary Seton Watts was the founder of the Compton Potters’ Arts Guild around 1900. She had built a house, Limnerslease, outside Compton near Guildford with her husband, the celebrated artist G F Watts, in 1891.

Thereafter she became well-known in the area, befriending other Surrey luminaries such as Gertrude Jekyll.

Self-effacing and modest, Mary Watts was in fact one of the most interesting designers at work in Surrey in this period. Inspired by her Scottish and Indian roots, Mary developed an interest in complex patterns of symbolism derived from the different great cultures of world history. This interest can be seen in her masterpiece, the Watts Chapel, and in the ceiling decorations she made for Limnerslease.

Following the death of her husband in 1904, Mary became the keeper of his legacy, presiding over the newly-established Watts Gallery and writing an extensive biography (1912). But Mary also took part in the Suffrage movement in Surrey, acting as President of the Godalming society.

More generally she became a local figurehead, appearing at all kinds of public events, representing all that she and her husband had cherished in terms of social and political progress, and the application of artistic principles to all aspects of life.

Watts Chapel

Watts Chapel is a Grade I listed Arts & Crafts building designed by the artist, ceramicist and designer Mary Watts and created by Mary with 74 local people from the village of Compton. The chapel remains a working parish chapel to this day. Mary was the designer of the entirety of the Chapel decoration including the elaborate designs on the terracotta exterior and the colourful gesso panels on the interior. Later in her life she even wrote a book explaining the symbolism behind her designs called ‘The Word in the Pattern’.

Mary is just one of the talented Surrey Women featured in Surrey Musuems Month 2017. To find out more about the event and other celebrated Surrey Women click here.

Text kindly produced by Watts Gallery – Artists’ Village

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