Born in Leicester in 1867 into the wealthy family of John Sloane, a surgeon and his wife Sarah, Mary lived with her parents, brothers and sisters at 9, Welford Place (later 13 Welford Road), a large, three-storey residence on the corner of York Road.
Family summers were spent at the Nook, the family’s cottage in the village of Enderby, Leicestershire, where away from the bustle and grime of town life Mary developed an enduring love for the countryside, revealed in early surviving sketchbooks produced in her teenage years.
She attended the progressive Belmont House School, Leicester, where her early talent was recognised by her art teacher Edith Gittins, a great admirer of William Morris and the Arts & Crafts Movement. The headmistress and owner of the school was Anna Chrysogon Beale, sister of Dorothea Beale of the famous Cheltenham Ladies College. After two years at Leicester School of Art where she won numerous prizes for drawing, Mary left for London in 1887, to become a student at the National Art Training School, Kensington.
Between 1890-92 she attended Herkomer’s Art school in Bushey, Hertfordshire, where pupils were encouraged in their individuality and to paint outdoors ‘en plein-air’. Mary’s father died in 1891, but in the same year Mary demonstrated her talent and artistic self-belief, with a stunning watercolour of ‘A Woman Framework Knitter’, (now known to be Alice Dobson of Enderby), one of a series of detailed paintings by Mary recording the important framework knitting industry in the Midlands.
Mary’s studies of men and women at work, including later etchings of silk weavers in London’s Bethnal Green district, reveal her skill in composition and her ability to capture the innate dignity of her sitters, who laboured in often difficult conditions.