Culture // 4 min Read

The Art of Mary Whyte

Written by Palmetto Bluff

Nov 20, 2018

You can travel the world and meet thousands of interesting people, but there’s something special about the Lowcountry and the people who call it home according to professional artist Mary Whyte. She has traveled the world and met thousands of people, but she always feels the pull of the Lowcountry.

“As an artist, you meet a hog farmer one day and have coffee with the president the next,” Mary said. However, her favorite people to paint are not the celebrities of the world. Instead, she paints the average, everyday person who lives life under the radar. “I find them endlessly interesting,” she said.

Originally from Ohio, Mary began her painting career as a child, selling her first painting when she was in eighth grade. During her sophomore year of high school, Mary took out an ad in the local newspaper to sell commissioned pencil portraits for $20 each. When Mary learned how to paint, she was intrigued by watercolor, but no one around her taught in this medium—so she taught herself.

She went to museums whenever she could to observe the works of the masters and borrowed dozens of books from the library, studying the works of John Singer Sargent, Winslow Homer, and Andrew Wyeth. All three figurative painters are known for their ability to garner different textures with watercolor, and Mary studied their pieces carefully to understand their technique.

After going to college in Philadelphia, she spent a year abroad in Rome, where she studied painting and traveled across Europe. Mary has also traveled throughout the United States and the world—from the heart of the Midwest to the historic cities of Europe and the busy streets of China. After her time abroad, Mary worked as a graphic designer creating logos and then as an illustrator for children’s books. As her career and passion for watercolor painting grew, Mary began painting full-time. Just like the artists she studied, her favorite thing to paint was people, and commissioned portraits gave her the opportunity to continue her travels throughout the country and the world. “My favorite portraits are the ones of people I have become lifelong friends with,” she said.

Mary’s travels have also given her the opportunity to fine-tune her plein air painting skills, a technique where the artist paints outside in the landscape they want to capture. When she comes upon a scene that inspires her, instead of pulling out her camera, Mary sets up an easel. “You have to be fast,” she said. “Painting these scenes has to be concise since the light changes roughly every hour and a half.” It forces Mary to focus on what is essential in a scene—sometimes she depicts landscapes and other times she paints perfect strangers. One of her favorite places to do plein air painting is in New Orleans, Louisiana. Her portrait of the famous Café du Monde is like a window into the French Quarter of New Orleans—you can almost hear the trumpets playing and smell the scent of freshly powdered beignets filling the hot, muggy air.

Twenty-seven years ago, Mary took the plunge and moved to the Lowcountry. “Quite by accident,” she says. She met an amazing group of Gullah women from Johns Island who forever changed Mary’s focus in her career. Every Wednesday, this group of women gathers at the senior center on Johns Island for fellowship—they study the Bible, sew quilts, or simply enjoy each other’s company. When Mary met this group of women, she was struck by how special this group was and the beauty of their time spent together. She was compelled to tell their story and began painting their portraits one by one, and she continues to do so to this day.

Her portraits of these influential women strike the perfect balance between boldness and elegance, a reflection of the women themselves. One painting in particular, Sweet Margaret, shows a Gullah woman in her Sunday best—a cheery red dress, a strand of pearls, and a white hat with her dark hair sneaking out of the back. The textured white walls behind her make Margaret pop off the canvas while her studious look places you right next to her during Bible study at the senior center.

In 2016, Mary was the recipient of the Gold Medal from the Portrait Society of America, the highest honor awarded by the society. Mary has written a book called Down Bohicket Road that shares two decades of her work. She has also written Working South and Painting Portraits and Figures in Watercolor as well as Alfreda’s World. A special trip to see Mary’s paintings is worth the drive. Mary’s paintings can be found in Bluffton at the Red Piano Art Gallery in Old Town.

Mary believes when you’re given a gift—painting, writing, or anything else—there’s a responsibility to pass that on. Mary hosts painting workshops to pass along the knowledge and expertise she has in watercolors to a new group of artists. These adult classes are for anyone regardless of experience and are held across the United States. If you’re interested in hosting or participating in a workshop, visit marywhyte.com for all the details.

%GALLERY%

palmetto bluff real estate

Real Estate / Real Estate Sales Report: Palmetto Bluff’s First Quarter Update

Real Estate in Bluffton SC: Trends, Updates, and Insights Positioned amidst the serene Lowcountry landscape of South Carolina, Palmetto Bluff stands as a beacon of luxury and natural beauty, attracting discerning homebuyers seeking an unparalleled lifestyle. ...

May 2024

Sporting Life / 7 Underrated Fly Fishing Spots in South Carolina

With its abundance of rivers, waterways, and streams, South Carolina is one of the best destinations for fly fishing in the Southeast. Not to mention, its mild weather throughout the year makes it a great place to fish all year round. Whether you are an experi...

May 2024

Real Estate / Real Estate Spotlight: 119 Hunting Lodge Rd, 151 Squash Blossom Ln, and 127 Hunting Lodge Rd

Discover These Cozy Coastal Cottages at Palmetto Bluff The Lowcountry is a place to retreat from reality and fully immerse in the serene atmosphere, which is why so many people are drawn to making it their home. There are a plethora of luxury homes in South C...

May 2024

Artist in Residence / Birds of a Feather

Photographs by Cacky Rivers and Cameron Wilder It is a sunny, cold December morning when we meet in the Conservancy classroom in Moreland Village. Everyone is well-equipped with binoculars and all manner of cameras and giant lenses. Cacky arrives last, in a r...

May 2024

Culture / Striking Gold

Photographs and Story by Joel Caldwell Marion “Rollen” Chalmers has been garnering a lot of well-deserved attention of late. Garden & Gun, the Blue Zones project, and even the TODAY show have made the trip to Rollen’s native Hardeeville, South Carolina, t...

May 2024

Culture / Local Character: Marie McConnell

Marie McConnell Director of Member relations, Palmetto Bluff Club Where are you from and how did you get here? I am from Buffalo, New York—born and raised. Go Bills! My husband and I got married at Sea Pines in Hilton Head in 2012 and fell in love with the ...

Apr 2024

Sporting Life / Saddle Up: Longfield Stables’ Trail Ride Program

Nestled amidst the tranquility of Palmetto Bluff, Longfield Stables stands as a beacon of serenity amid lush green pastures and the gentle presence of grazing horses. Its picturesque setting makes it a haven not only for the esteemed Palmetto Bluff Club Member...

Apr 2024

Conservation / Palmetto Bluff Conservancy 2024 Summer Camps

The Conservancy is looking forward to another summer of fun with our upcoming kid's programs!  Wild Child Camp and Junior Naturalist Camp will have dedicated weeks in June. Registration is $200 per child for the week. To participate, parents must fill out t...

Apr 2024

Culture / Palmetto Bluff Growing Outdoors

Photographs by Summer Pagatpatan Palmetto Bluff is a wilderness playground for families, a gateway to the outdoors, to living life close to nature. Palmetto Bluff Growing Outdoors, or PBGO, encompasses the ethos of this extraordinary place. CampGO is PBGO’...

Apr 2024

Sporting Life / A Comparison of the May River & Crossroads Golf Courses

Discover the May River and Crossroads Golf Courses at Palmetto Bluff Positioned within the enchanting Lowcountry landscape, Palmetto Bluff boasts an array of world-class amenities, with its golf courses standing as a testament to the community's commitment to...

Apr 2024
LIVE
Community Villages
Experience
Palmetto Bluff Club
On The Water
The Arts Initiative
Events
Conserve
About Us