Mary Shanks, like her elder sister, studied at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. Mary probably met her friend Natalia at the art school, this is also most likely where she became friends with Tolstoy's eldest daughter Tatyana. Mary and Natalia prepared illustrations (shown below) for Tolstoy's short story 'Where Love is, God is'.
According to the aural history of the family, Mary and Louise were both part of the Tolstoy circle:
‘She [Louise] was a “disciple” of Leo Tolstoy and joined a primitive community on his estate in the country as, probably, did another sister, Mary’. [British Under the Tsars, Donald Shanks]
Their visits to Tolstoy are confirmed by Tolstoy’s letters:
‘I thank you very much for your letter, dear friend. I heard of your illness and am very glad to know that you are rid of it. Nathalie G. and Mascha Shanks have been here yesterday and we spoke with them very much about you’ [Tolstoy to Arthur St John, Moscow, 15th February 1899, Tolstoy’s letters, R. F Christian, pp 579]
Further, Tolstoy’s visitor’s book for the period 1882-1889 records that both Emily and Mary were guests at the Tolstoy home.
Mary Shanks and her friend Natalia Yenken became disciples of Tolstoy, their activities eventually leading to their exile from Russia. They adopoted a Russian girl, Ania Troup, who recalled how during breaks from art school Natalia, Mary and Ania would go and visit Tolstoy at Yasnaya Polyana his country residence in the Tula region 130 miles south of Moscow.
This photo shows Mary on the left and Ania centre.
Tolstoy and Mary Shanks
In 'Memories of Revolution', Ania recalls that Mary held meetings of Tolstoyian discussion group at the Shanks' home, the Pakroffka, until these came to the attention of the Tsarist authorities. When Natalia Yencken was arrested and then exiled from Russia, Mary accompanied Natalia to England where they eventually settled in Teignmouth Devon.