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Dragon Interview: Local Artist Leaves Her Mark at One of England’s Most Historic Buildings

Published on: 21 Jan, 2023
Updated on: 24 Jan, 2023

Mary Branson in her studio

By Martin Giles

Have you heard of Mary Branson? You should have done, she is a Guildford artist who has her artwork New Dawn permanently installed in Westminster Hall, one of the UK’s most historic buildings.

Mary, who lives in Sutton Green, is a true Guildfordian who has worked her way up to the position where she was selected as the artist to create a work to celebrate the struggle for women’s suffrage.

Please listen to the interview, skilfully edited by Mark Insoll

If you would like to see and read more about New Dawn please read on…

Extracts and images from New Dawn, a booklet published by the Parliamentary Curator’s Office.

New Dawn is a contemporary sculpture celebrating the campaign for women’s suffrage (the right to vote). Commissioned by the Speaker’s Advisory Committee on Works of Art in 2015, it resulted from a six-month residency in the Houses of Parliament followed by over a year of design and construction.

One of the metal-infused glass discs.

The metal and illuminated glass sculpture draws on concepts and imagery connected with Parliament and the votes for women campaign. It celebrates the individuals and organisations involved in the fight for voting equality.

A significant addition to the Parliamentary Art Collection, New Dawn is permanently sited on the main public route through the Palace of Westminster and is seen by the hundreds of thousands of people who visit Parliament each year.

Acts of Parliament are now each recorded in a separate book, but this is a relatively recent innovation, dating only from 1849.

Before then, each Act was written on a parchment roll, which might consist of a single skin, or more frequently of skin sewn to skin, until the roll took on formidable proportions. One of the longest is in fact nearly a quarter of a mile long.

The inspirational original parchment roll on which all Acts of Parliament were written until 1849.

These old rolls are kept in the original Act Room in Victoria Tower and were one of the clear inspirations for the glass discs in the installation.

An early concept sketch.

Mary’s ideas for the artwork that became New Dawn developed during the course of her residency and were finalised in the months afterwards.

Following the successful presentation of her proposal to the Speaker’s Advisory Committee on Works of Art, the commissioning of New Dawn was formally announced on March 5, 2015 at an International Women’s Day event in Parliament.

The space above St Stephen’s Porch.

Charles Barry’s richly decorated Victorian Gothic building made Mary’s search for an appropriate site no easy task. However, the artist kept returning to one location – a large arched compartment in St Stephen’s Porch at the southern end of Westminster Hall. The space had remained empty since construction of the current Palace of Westminster was completed in 1850.

Adam Aaronson working with Mary Branson.

To create the glass scrolls that are so central to New Dawn Mary enlisted the skills of Adam Aaronson from West Horsley. Of varying sizes, 168 unique glass discs were hand-blown and carefully “spun” to flatten them.

To produce the scroll pattern Adam applied powdered glass colours and silver leaf to the molten glass at specific points in the process.

The glass scrolls are lit by a computer-controlled programme created by Mary and linked to tidal monitoring of the Thames.

A continuous series of slow transitions build from the low tide, where only one disc is lit, to high tide where the whole piece is illuminated. Within these transitions, selections of suffrage society colours emerge and then fade with the rhythm of the artwork.

New Dawn completed and installed.



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Responses to Dragon Interview: Local Artist Leaves Her Mark at One of England’s Most Historic Buildings

  1. Nicholas Bale Reply

    February 6, 2023 at 6:28 pm

    Very impressed by Mary Branson and the story of how she became an artist.

    Well done Martin Giles for an excellent interview.

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