Self-taught artist Mary Whitfield was born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1947. When she was a child, Whitfield’s grandmother was a strong influence on her developing perceptions. She brought Whitfield to church and to civil rights meetings. She also told her many stories of slavery, black oppression, as well as of peaceful farm life. During her adolescence, Whitfield and her mother moved to Long Island. There, Whitfield would eventually meet her husband, David, a hardware salesman. Although she worked by trade as a supervisor of library services, she was inspired to translate her grandmother’s vivid oral tradition into visual images. While her children were still young, Whitfield began expressing herself with old house paint and plywood. Later, in 1990, she moved to watercolors on canvas.
Whitfield focuses her rich paintings on the historical and modern plight of African-Americans, and the cruelty and injustice they have experienced. The powerful works contain little detail; the figures have no facial features. Instead, the drama of their gestures or body language conveys the feeling of the painting.
Whitfield’s work has been exhibited at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland, at numerous galleries around the nation. It is also featured in the permanent collection at the Birmingham Museum of Art. Whitfield was recently commissioned to illustrate a children’s book about her husband’s youth. She is also the subject of an article by a Birmingham, Alabama curator in Raw Vision magazine. Whitfield currently lives in Port Washington, near Long Island, and paints on her lap every night in bed.
Purchase a copy of Mary Whitfield catalog Mary Frances Whitfield: Remember Your Past