First published: Winter 2004
Mary Frances Whitfield was born on April 14, 1947 in Birmingham, Alabama. Festering in violence and discrimination, Birmingham then was about to be catapulted into national prominence as the most segregated city in America, meeting demands for racial justice with increasing resistance and horrifying bloodshed.
Mary Whitfield’s paintings are born of those years of revolution and change, but were most closely linked to stories and memories shared by her grandmother. Small-scale, figurative works, they movingly depict stories of love and despair, injustice and perseverance. They often refer to an earlier history in the American South, but their message is timeless, telling stories of the struggles still faced by African-Americans in 21st-century America.
Mary Whitfield began painting in the early 1970s, when her two older sons were toddlers. She had no formal art training but was a talented needlewoman and thought she might also have some ability as a painter. Using materials from around her home, such as house paint on pieces of plywood, she created a series of domestic scenes, but considered it only a hobby and gave it up to return to school. After graduation, she worked as a secretary, and was eventually promoted to supervisor of library services. In the late 1980s, with her three sons grown, she purchased some watercolour paints and canvas board and returned to painting.
This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #49