Rebirth: The life and legacy of Mary Barnes.

This study will explore the life and legacy of Mary Edith Barnes (1923-2001), a British self-taught artist, writer and mental health activist. This project is a collaboration between the University of Surrey and Wellcome Collection. It is an interdisciplinary project that will work closely with archival materials and artwork recently acquired by Wellcome Collection. 

The supervisory team consists of:

Prof. Victoria Tischler: chartered psychologist and an expert on Barnes’s life and work.  

Elena Carter: Collections Development Lead (Archivist) at Wellcome Collection involved in the acquisition of Barnes’s artwork and archive.  

Dr Cheryl McGeachan: human geographer and Senior Lecturer at University of Glasgow who has expertise in historical and contemporary lived experiences of mental illness.   

Start date

1 October 2024


3.5 years

Application deadline

Funding information

The University of Surrey offers a stipend of £19,237 p/a (UKRI rate) plus £3000 for travel and consumables.

Wellcome Collection will offer the student up to:

  • £1500 research expenses per year for three years
  • Up to £2000 to support a conference, workshop or knowledge exchange event
  • £360 of lunch vouchers


Mary Barnes was a notable resident at R D Laing’s experimental therapeutic community, Kingsley Hall, where she lived from 1965-1970, following a psychotic breakdown. Kingsley Hall was established as an alternative to conventional psychiatric treatment, where residents were instead encouraged to embrace their madness without medical intervention. At Kingsley Hall, Mary regressed to a state of infant-like dependency. She formed an intense therapeutic relationship with psychoanalyst, Dr Joseph (Joe) Berke who encouraged her to paint on the walls of Kingsley Hall. She co-authored a book with Joe Berke: Mary Barnes: two accounts of a journey through madness (1971). 

Following Kingsley Hall’s closure in 1970, Mary became a successful artist, creating artworks that expressed her inner turmoil and rebirth. She continued to write, publishing a book of creative writing in 1989 with Ann Scott, Something Sacred

Barnes’s archive collection was only recently discovered in a former stable in Falkland, Scotland. This archive collection and a selection of her artworks were acquired by Wellcome Collection in 2023 and are now undergoing cataloguing, following intensive conservation intervention. 

The archive offers a unique and untapped research opportunity to examine the legacy of Mary Barnes. Alongside Barnes’s collection, Wellcome has rich related holdings, including artworks and archives created in mental health settings, and collections documenting mental healthcare provision. Wellcome Collection also holds the archive for Dr Joseph Berke, which is currently uncatalogued.  

Potential lines of enquiry might include (but are not limited to): 

  • The role of creativity and art in mental health care. 
  • The cultural legacy of Mary Barnes. 
  • Lived experience and the ethics of archival representation.  
  • Informing contemporary mental health care through historical perspectives.   

A variety of theoretical positions and methodologies may be used to frame the project. 

Eligibility criteria

You will need to meet the minimum entry requirements for our Psychology PHD programme.

Open to UK nationals and those who pay UK/home rate fees. See UKCISA for further information.

The interdisciplinary project is suitable for someone with a psychology, mental health nursing, human geography, creative arts or medical humanities background. 

The applicant should have experience of undertaking research with archives or visual art or be strongly motivated to do so. Interests in lived experience of mental illness and the history of mental health care are essential. 

Additional training will be provided as part of the University of Surrey’s doctoral programme, via the Doctoral College, and by Wellcome Collection

How to apply

Applicants should provide:

  • Their 2-page C.V. 
  • A 1-page (A4) personal statement outlining their motivation to undertake the study.

These should be submitted by 17:00 28 June 2024. 

Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed week beginning 15 July 2024.

Psychology PHD

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Application deadline

Contact details

Victoria Tischler

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