Mary Little

Intent & Serendipity

I was invited to see Mary Little’s new work at the iconic Frank Gehry Binoculars Building in Venice, California (the binoculars were designed by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen). I remember standing in a conference room Gehry created in the space. It was modeled with wood, like the skeleton of the inside belly of a whale. I was interested to see how the new owners were using the space for an art show.

Per usual, I arrived late to the lecture given by Mary Little, a woman with a brogue accent from Northern Ireland. She spoke to a group of about thirty people neatly placed in one of the many rooms for noshing in the revamped corporate office building. (The company wishes to remain anonymous.)

I met Mary circa 2010 at an open studio visit in Downtown L.A. My client, a major art collector, still had offices in L.A. and Mary made bespoke furniture. Her work seemed comfortable & ergonomic in the most creative way. I was drawn to it and relished an opportunity to attend her presentation at this exhibition.

Installation view of “Bush” by Mary Little. Image courtesy of the artist.

Mary talked to the gathering about her projected photographs of her minimally complex neutral colored fabric wall pieces. Created with unbleached canvas fabric, the pieces were intricately folded, sewn, and molded. These works suggested to me that perhaps a hidden code might be revealed by the intricate patterns.

Mary remarked that recently she noticed that her work must be inspired by her mother’s knitting, “there certainly are similarities.” The pictured sweater shows a unique pattern, created for a loved one. Mary explained that each sweater was created uniquely for the individual wearer. Her mother used an infinite number of patterns to create the sweaters.

Installation view of “Dunbar” by Mary Little. Image courtesy of the artist.

During the question and answer period I asked Mary how her DNA affects her work. Sometimes when I ask an artist their intent, they become resistant and won’t tell me, or they pivot to some other topic and answer a different question. Artists often will decline to talk to most people about the intention behind their work and it is usually up to me to interpret it the best way I can, to dig a little deeper into why.

My big question: Does Mary’s DNA appear in her work?

I had a gnawing feeling that there was something ancient about her work, perhaps symbols or language or code.

After a bit of research, I discovered some interesting parallels to an ancient Irish language called Ogham. Perhaps there was a connection to Mary’s work?

Ogham’s alphabet predates the 5th Century BC. It was King Fénius Farsaid (living during the time of Babel) who named each of the letters of the Ogham alphabet after his best scholars – 25 in all. The ‘letters’ are in fact simple lines inscribed on stone, metal or wood – either on opposite sides of a vertical line or on each side of a sharp corner of stone. The position and angle of each line defines the letter. Words are read starting at the bottom, going up the left side of the line or corner and coming down on the other side, and are generally thought to represent names, suggesting that the inscribed stones are memorials. In these instances, the lines indicate people’s names or professions. Some of the stones were also most likely tombstone markers for the ancient ones. Although there are plenty of Ogham stones throughout Wales, Ireland and Scotland, no wood or metal monuments have been discovered, although archeologists posit that some must have existed.

A Poem in Ogham

Gaelic: Ailim iath n-erend Ermac muir motach English: I invoke the land of Eire much coursed by the fertile sea.

Ailim iath n-erend
Ermac muir motach

I invoke the land of Eire
much coursed by the fertile sea.

Ogham language stone Southern Ireland

Ogham language stone
Southern Ireland

Collection of the Ogham stones University College Cork, Stone Corridor

Collection of the Ogham stones at University College Cork, Stone Corridor

Ogham Stone University College Cork called Stone Corridor

Detail of Ogham Stone
University College Cork, Stone Corridor

Is Mary’s work connected to an ancient language and an ancient Irish legend? Mary Little’s show, perhaps ironically, is titled Intent & Serendipity. Yes, because of the sweaters. But what of Ogham? Is there a connection through her DNA that predates her mother’s sweater? Serendipity indeed.


Shortly after graduating from the Royal College of Art in London, Mary Little’s work entered the permanent collections of the Vitra Design Museum in Basel and Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. She moved to San Francisco in 2001 to take up a teaching position at California College of the Arts (CCA). Now in Los Angeles her latest work has evolved to become increasingly abstract, exploring themes of landscape, pattern and repetition.

Julie Rico was the director of critically acclaimed art galleries in downtown Los Angeles and Santa Monica between 1988 and 2010. Julie curated over 200 art exhibitions in 4 different formal gallery spaces.  Now, she runs her on-line gallery at