Mary Whitfield (born 1947)
As a young girl in Birmingham, Alabama, Mary Whitfield remembers going off at night to attend civil rights meetings with her grandmother. She recalls her grandmother’s stories of nineteenth century America, particularly the history of the African American experience. Whitfield’s paintings depict these tales and portray the horrors of slavery that serve to remind us of the injustices that continue today. The subjects of her paintings – lynchings, working in the cotton fields, mothers and children – confront the past with passion, sorrow, and dignity. Whitfield moved with her family to New York as a teenager, but her art is deeply rooted in those early memories of the South. She began painting as a hobby in 1970 when her children were young but soon gave it up to attend business school and work as a library supervisor. In the late 1980s when her three sons were grown, Whitfield resumed painting full-time and began to show her work. She was the recipient of a grant from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, and has had artist residencies at the Museum of American Folk Art in New York and the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire. Whitfield is currently working on a children’s book, David’s Story, based on the true story of her husband’s recollections of being raised on a farm in North Carolina. Whitfield’s paintings are in many private and public collections including the Birmingham Museum of Art in Alabama and the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C.