Watercolor Artist Mary Whyte Captures Soul of the South

7:28 AM, May 20, 2010   |    comments
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  • Mary Whyte works on a painting of her model, Tesha Marsland.
  • (Watercolor painting by Mary Whyte)

Charleston County, SC (WLTX) -- A watercolor artist who is garnering national attention found the subject matter that would change her paintings, and her life, in South Carolina.

As carefully as one would write their own family records, Mary Whyte calculates her artwork with an enormous sense of urgency.

"We don't plan our paintings as artists," said Whyte, "They find us." Watercolor is a quick medium, and mistakes are hard to resolve.

"It's the only medium that relies strictly on timing," she said.

For 20 years, Whyte has been driven to capture South Carolina's vanishing personal history before it changes with the times.

Her husband guilds her frames by hand in the top floor of their Charleston gallery, Coleman Fine Art.  The couple moved from the Northeastern United States looking for a fresh start after Whyte battled cancer. It was on the border islands of South Carolina that she found what she sought. 

Whyte met a group of Gullah women at a local church and used them as models. She has embedded her brushstrokes in the day-to-day life of Gullah women and their families ever since.

"For them, every act, every task is part of the big picture," she said. "These women changed my life, positively changed my life and gave me a faith in God that I'd never had before. [They] gave me a subject matter and a passion that I'd never had before."

Tesha Marsland has served as Whyte's model for two decades. "I think she sees a light, that sometimes I don't even think I see," Marsland said.

Georgeanna Heyward, an 89-year-old model, was born on John's Island.

"In this section, there they call it Hopkin, up the road, up the hill, they call it Hickory Hill, you know.  Just like a father with six children, they all have a different name, but the whole entire thing is John's Island," Heyward said.

They say a talented artist uses her paintbrush like an extension of the hand, but for Whyte, it's an extension of her soul.

"We recognize in others what we see in ourselves," she said.

Whyte has recently completed 50 paintings in 10 states which show vanishing industries. The book of that work is in progress.

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