painter, printmaker, designer and embroiderer, was born in Middlesborough, Yorkshire, England, on 30 July 1891, only daughter of Clement Antrobus Harris and his Quaker wife. She graduated from the Edinburgh School of Art in 1913, took a postgraduate course in woodblock printing under Sir F. Morley Fletcher, taught in Scotland until 1921 and commenced teaching at the SA School of Arts and Crafts in 1922. After she and her parents arrived at Adelaide to join her brother, she complained that 'there were so few pictures in Australian homes’; nevertheless, she remained at the School until 1953.
Mary P. Harris was enthusiastic about all forms of visual arts. In keeping with her Arts and Crafts training, she not only was a painter but also made prints and produced printed fabrics, tapestry, stained glass (in the 1930s) and needlework. Textiles, especially needlework, had been a major part of the tuition at the School from 1888 to 1909 – when it was known as the School of Design – and embroidery continued to be taught there in the 1920s and ’30s as well as batik and fabric printing.
Mary exhibited for many years with the Royal SA Society of Arts (1922-67) and in many other exhibitions, including the Contemporary Art Society’s Anti-Fascist Exhibition at Adelaide in 1943. As well, she wrote and published books on art and Quaker philosophy, edited the Arts and Crafts magazine, The Forerunner , and organised an exhibition of local art ('The Testament of Beauty’) in 1939. After her retirement from the School in 1953, she lived at Bundilla, Walkerville. She filled the house with her own and her students’ paintings and sculptures by her friend Ola Cohn and the garden – a bird sanctuary of native plants – with sculpture by William Ricketts and her nephew Quintin Harris.
Mary P. Harris published In One Splendour Spun: Autobiography of a Quaker Artist in 1971. She died at Adelaide on 26 August 1978. Walkerville Council was unable to take up her bequest of Bundilla Sanctuary; however, her paintings remain in the Council’s possession. A retrospective exhibition of her work was held in 1986. The Ballarat Fine Art Gallery has several of her prints woodcuts and linocuts. She is also said to have done bookplates