Fran’s Scorpio Marion M. Bass (1936- ), who goes by the professional names Pinky Bass or Pinky/MM Bass, is a photographer and mixed-media artist based in Fairhope, Baldwin County. She has been the subject of 40 solo exhibitions, and her work is held in major museums throughout the country. In Alabama, her work has been exhibited at the Huntsville Museum of Art, the Birmingham Museum of Art, the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, and the Mobile Museum of Art. She won the Mobile Arts Council’s 2019 Lifetime Achievement Award and was honored with an Alabama Artist Fellowship and a Southern Arts Federation/NEA grant. Publications in which her work is featured include The Polaroid Book, Book of Alternative Photographic Processes, Alabama Creates: 200 Years of Art and Artists, and Entwined (Pinky/MM Bass and Carolyn DeMeritt).
Lois’s Pet Cow Marion Winchester McCall was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on January 20, 1936, to Marion Sundberg McCall, an abstract painter and watercolorist, and Edgar Wyman McCall, an Auburn University graduate in electrical engineering and later CEO of Tennessee Armature and Electric Company in Knoxville, Tennessee. She had one younger sister, Frances (Deaton) McCall. She earned her nickname, Pinky, when the birthing nurses called her Pinky-Bobo because of her red hair. Her mother had been raised in Fairhope and Mobile, and her grandmother, Lois Slosson Sundberg, originally from Verona, Illinois, was the first trained teacher at the Marietta Johnson School of Organic Education, a Progressive alternative school in Fairhope. Bass would later teach creative rhythms there in the 1980s. Her grandmother was an accomplished photographer who worked with glass negatives and was a pupil of Frank Stewart the Picture Man, a noted Silverhill photographer. Bass’s maternal aunt later gifted her with her grandmother’s camera and collection of glass negatives and photographs. Bass spent the first year of her education at the Marietta Johnson School while her father was stationed overseas during World War II and her mother was working as a draftsperson in the Mobile war effort. The family returned to live in Knoxville after the war, but Bass continued to visit her grandmother regularly in Fairhope during summers and holidays.
Bass attended Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia, and majored in Bible, although she always enjoyed the creative arts. Pinky married Presbyterian minister, John Richard Bass, from Vidalia, Georgia, shortly after her graduation in 1958. The couple served a number of churches in Georgia as well as a five-year term as missionaries in Mexico City. Two of their four children were born there. They divorced in the mid-80s.
Newly single and with grown children, Bass decided to pursue her interest in art. She entered graduate school at Georgia State University, where she discovered photography and earned a master of fine arts in that field. After she expressed boredom with regular photography, her major professor suggested that she try pinhole cameras. These simple devices, lacking mirrors and ground glass lenses, are created out of virtually anything that can be made lightproof. She was attracted to pinhole photography largely because of the lack of control and the surprises it produced.
In Abiquiu In 1986, Bass participated in the University of Georgia’s Study Abroad Program in Cortona, Italy. There she met artist-in residence and sculptor Clara “Kitty” Couch from Charlotte, North Carolina, and the two traveled frequently together to the American West and to Mexico. They often collaborated, each inspiring the other’s evolution as artists. In 1990, the two women were awarded a joint artist residency at the Appalachian Environmental Center in Highlands, North Carolina. The following year, the work they produced during the residency was part of a joint exhibition at The Light Factory in Charlotte, North Carolina, entitled ERDA: The Birth of New Forms. In December 1991, the women won a joint artist-in-residence position at the Headlands Center for the Arts in Sausalito, California, where they intended to produce work that was a true collaboration melding their mediums and styles. They lived there for three months in the summer of 1992 and then spent three more months at the Penland School of Crafts in the mountains of western North Carolina, continuing to work on their collaborative art project, a mixed-media installation entitled Collaboration Emerging. They produced two other series while there: Clay Bodies, combining photo emulsion and Couch’s clay base, and a group of color photographs entitled Foreshadowed Faces that overlaid Couch’s face with natural forms. Returning to a focus on her own work, in 1993 Bass organized and directed a six-month residency for some 17 friends and artists in Oaxaca, Mexico.
Pinky’s Portable Pop-up Pinhole Camera and Darkroom In 1988, Bass settled in Fairhope, where she worked as a freelance photographer, arts educator, and artist. She worked for the Alabama State Council on the Arts developing a photography program that she offered throughout the state. She constructed a giant pinhole camera in a camper that she named Pinky’s Portable Pop-up Pinhole Camera and Darkroom. Bass made several pinhole photos with the pop-up camera, revisiting locations in Silverhill and Fairhope that her grandmother had photographed. She also mounted an exhibition at the Eastern Shore Art Center entitled Three Generations, which included her grandmother’s photographs, her photographs, and her mother’s watercolors.
In 1997, Bass was included among several notable artists on the list of Georgia Women in the Visual Arts by the Georgia Commission on Women. In 2000, she was one of 12 Alabama women selected to participate in the exhibit Voices Rising: Alabama Women at the Millennium at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. This exhibit traveled to museums throughout Alabama in 2001. Other Alabama artists included Dothan painter Dale Kennington and Annie Tolliver, daughter of Montgomery artist Mose T.
Bass’s sister’s cancer diagnosis and subsequent death piqued her interest in exploring human biology, and she shifted her work to combining thread and photography in multimedia compositions. In these works, Bass sews internal organs onto nude images of herself. Some of these works were featured in a 2008 group exhibition entitled MEND: Love, Life, & Loss at the Halsey Gallery in Charleston, South Carolina. Bass’s performance piece Pentagram of Loss premiered at that time.
In 2010, the University of Alabama at Birmingham mounted a retrospective of her work. That same year a selection of her grandmother’s photographs and pieces from her series Body Notes were included in the exhibition Shoot’n Southern: Women Photographers Past and Present at the Mobile Museum of Art. Her work is held in numerous corporate and museum collections, including the High Museum in Atlanta, Georgia, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Mint Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina, and the Polaroid Corporation in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Givens, Joshua. “Get to Know Fairhope Artist Pinky Bass,” Mobile Bay Magazine, September 24, 2019; https://mobilebaymag.com/get-to-know-fairhope-artist-pinky-bass.
Harrison, Thomas B. “Artist Pinky Bass Shares Grandmother’s Legacy in Photography Show at Mobile Museum of Art,” Al.com, June 27, 2010; https://www.al.com/entertainment-press-register/2010/06/nky_bass_artist_p_shares_grandmothers_l.html.