Mary Whyte – Artist and Activist

Mary Whyte
Artist and Activist

Mary Whyte is an artist extraordinaire. She sold her first painting when she was in the 8th grade. She attended the Tyler School of Art spending her junior year in Rome. Mary has never known a time in her life when she didn’t think of herself as an artist. She feels being an artist is a gift and the artists’ job is to nurture the gift through study and practice. She considers herself a figurative artist, painting people who are everyday people or those who are overlooked by society. When she was learning water color paintings it was thought of as a preliminary art form and there wasn’t much academically she could study so she set about finding artists who would impact her work mostly through books, shows, and lots of practice. Her favorite artists and the ones she feels have had the most impact on her work are Andrew Wyeth, Winslow Homer and John Singer Sargeant.

Mary had her first show at the age of 18 in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. After graduating from art school, she did a show in Philadelphia at age 23. She has been featured in at least 100 different shows. In recent years, the focus has been on museum exhibitions. Mary’s work is narrative.  It tells the story of everyday people largely overlooked by society. In high school she received permission to paint the Amish. In recent years she has painted African American Gullah women of Johns Island. She did a show about vanishing jobs, such as elevator operators, newspaper delivery boys, textile mill workers, crabbers and shrimpers, and shoe shine men. It was called “The Working South”.  She traveled to 10 Southern states to complete the show which consisted of 50 paintings.

Scope 50, which is one of Mary’s latest projects, was put together by Dr. Martin Luther King in 1965 and it concentrated on bringing white people to the South to register black voters. The members of Scope 50 have stayed together and are celebrating their 50th anniversary this summer. The team has endeavored to put together oral or written histories of the many people who came to the South to register black voters. The effort attempts to preserve the stories of those who registered blacks to vote. Mary was asked to join the board of Scope 50 even though she was not a part of the 1965 voter registration drive. It was thought that she had a unique relationship to the African American culture.

The goals of Scope 50 are to 1. Raise money, 2. Preserve history, and 3. Find ways to present their project to the public.

Preserving these stories of people who came to the South to help people register to vote is an important part of our cultural heritage.

PBS is running a special on this project entitled We Meet Again, Freedom Summer which airs on February 20th.There is a fundraiser called The Sounds of Motown which will be held on February 23rd at 6pm at the Seabrook Island Club. To buy tickets go to Scope50.0rg and click on the $75 entry.

-Barbara Burgess, Tidelines Staff Writer


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