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More Than a Likeness: The Enduring Art of Mary Whyte

More Than a Likeness: The Enduring Art of Mary Whyte

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More Than a Likeness: The Enduring Art of Mary Whyte

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285 pages
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Aug 1, 2013


More Than a Likeness: The Enduring Art of Mary Whyte is the first comprehensive book on the life and work of one of today’s most renowned watercolorists. From Whyte’s earliest paintings in rural Ohio and Pennsylvania, to the riveting portraits of her southern neighbors, historian Martha R. Severens provides us with an intimate look into the artist’s private world.

With more than two hundred full-color images of Whyte’s paintings and sketches, as well as comparison works by masters such as Winslow Homer, Andrew Wyeth, and John Singer Sargent, Severens clearly illustrates how Whyte’s art has been shaped and how the artist forged her own place in the world today.

Though Whyte’s academic training in Philadelphia was in oil painting, she learned the art of watercolor on her own—by studying masterworks in museums. Today Whyte’s style of watercolor painting is a unique blend of classical realism and contemporary vision, as seen in her intimate portraits of Southern blue-collar workers and elderly African American women in the South Carolina lowcountry.

“For me ideas are more plentiful than the hours to paint them, and I worry that I cannot get to all of my thoughts before they are forgotten or are pushed aside by more pressing concerns,” explains Whyte. “Some works take time to evolve. Like small seeds the paintings might not come to fruition until several years later, after there has been ample time for germination.”

Using broad sweeping washes as well as miniscule brushstrokes, Whyte directs the viewer’s attention to the areas in her paintings she deems most important. Murky passages of neutral colors often give way to areas of intense detail and color, giving the works a variety of edges and poetic focus. Several paintings included in the book are accompanied by enlarged areas of detail, showcasing Whyte’s technical mastery.

More Than a Likeness is replete with engaging artwork and inspiring text that mark the mid-point in Whyte’s artistry. Of what she will paint in the future, the artist says, “I have always believed that as artists we don’t choose our vocation, style, or subject matter. Art chooses us.”
Aug 1, 2013

Despre autor

Mary Whyte is an artist and author whose watercolor paintings have earned international recognition. Her works have been exhibited nationally as well as in China and have been featured in numerous publications stateside and in France, Germany, Russia, Canada, China, the United Kingdom, and Taiwan. Whyte is the author of two books published by the University of South Carolina Press—Working South: Paintings and Sketches by Mary Whyte and Down Bohicket Road: An Artist's Journey. She is also the author of Alfreda's World, Painting Portraits and Figures in Watercolor, An Artist's Way of Seeing, and Watercolor for the Serious Beginner. Whyte is the recipient of the Portrait Society of America's Gold Medal and the Elizabeth O'Neill Verner Award, South Carolina's highest honor in the arts.

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More Than a Likeness - Mary Whyte

More Than a Likeness

The Enduring Art of

Mary Whyte

© 2013 Mary Whyte

Published by the University of South Carolina Press

Columbia, South Carolina 29208


22 21 20 19 18 17 16 15 14 13   10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Severens, Martha R., 1945–

   More than a likeness : the enduring art of Mary Whyte / Martha R. Severens.

      pages cm

   Includes bibliographical references and index.

   ISBN 978-1-61117-276-8 (hardbound : alk. paper) — ISBN 978-1-61117-324-6

(ebook) 1. Whyte, Mary—Criticism and interpretation. I. Title.

   ND1839.W49S48 2013




FRONTISPIECE: When I Grow Old I Shall Wear Purple, 2001, watercolor on paper, 31 × 24 ½ inches, private collection

Other Mary Whyte Books and DVDs

Books by Mary Whyte

Watercolor for the Serious Beginner, 1997

Alfreda's World, 2003

An Artist's Way of Seeing, 2005

Mary Whyte: Working South, 2011

Painting Portraits and Figures in Watercolor, 2011

Down Bohicket Road, 2012

Illustrations for Children's Books

Boomer's Big Day, by Constance W. McGeorge, 1994

Snow Riders, by Constance W. McGeorge, 1995

Boomer Goes to School, by Constance W. McGeorge, 1996

I Love You the Purplest, by Barbara Joosse, 1996

Waltz of the Scarecrows, by Constance W. McGeorge, 1998

The Tickle Stories, by Jean Van Leeuwen, 1998

Boomer's Big Surprise, by Constance W. McGeorge, 1999

The One and Only You, by Pam Muñoz Ryan, 2000

Mama's Way, by Helen Ketteman, 2001

P Is for Palmetto, by Carol Crane, 2002

A Box of Friends, by Pam Muñoz Ryan, 2002

The Color of Sky, by Pam Muñoz Ryan, 2003

Chestnut, by Constance W. McGeorge, 2004

Instructional DVDs

Artist Daily Workshop: Mastering Watercolor Portraiture with Mary Whyte, 2010

Watercolor Portraits of the South with Mary Whyte, 2011



Artist's Statement

Mary Whyte

The Artistry of Mary Whyte




At the age of nineteen, on the occasion of her first exhibition, Mary Whyte told a reporter, Everybody needs people. Whyte herself is a people person, gracious with individuals from all walks of life and patient as she listens to their stories. It has been my pleasure to get to know Mary and her work and to learn about her people, through her paintings and writings mostly, but also through interviews. As an art historian, I have attempted to put her work in context; it comes very naturally to me to compare her work with that of Claude Monet, Rembrandt van Rijn, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. I have chosen to illustrate a number of paintings by the artists that she admires most—Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, and Andrew Wyeth. They have served her well as artistic mentors, both technically and thematically. I have also selected the work of her Charleston predecessors, two women who loved their native city and helped to shape its future: Alice Ravenel Huger Smith and Elizabeth O'Neill Verner. In many respects Mary Whyte follows in their footsteps.

Without the filter of history, it is more difficult to assess Whyte vis à vis her contemporaries. Certainly she is a traditionalist, preferring a representational style at odds with the abstract and conceptual art one finds in New York galleries. Two artists who depict the South, however, do come readily to mind. Jonathan Green captures his own Gullah heritage in brilliantly colored compositions dominated by geometric, flat shapes. Dark-skinned faceless women and children play and work under bright blue skies in visually active scenes. In contrast the mood of Stephen Scott Young's paintings is more contemplative. Like Whyte he is a masterful technician, especially in watercolor, and he too greatly admires Homer and Wyeth. Unlike Whyte, however, Young maintains an emotional distance from his young sitters.

This volume is the story of Mary Whyte: her life, her art, and her passions. I am grateful to her for her openness and her willingness to answer myriad questions. Others have been exceptionally helpful as well, including both our husbands, Smith Coleman and Kenneth Severens. In addition the staff of Coleman Fine Art—Katie Lindler, Elizabeth Collins, Marilynn McMillan, and Croft Lane—has handled innumerable details gracefully and deserve special acknowledgement. I am grateful to Smith Coleman and Jack Alterman for their excellent photography and to members of the University of South Carolina Press, especially Jonathan Haupt, Linda Haines Fogle, Bill Adams, and Pat Callahan, who have so ably shepherded the project. For various and sundry other help, I also thank Joyce Baker, Jane Bechdolt, Doug and Billie Hogg, Virginia Holbrook, Leonard J. Long, Angela Mack, Tesha Marsland, Mary McCarthy, Layton McCurdy, Constance McGeorge, Joseph P. Riley, Jr., Burton Silverman, and Renata Toney.

Raider, 2012

Watercolor on paper, 28 ½ × 27 ¼ inches

Private collection

Artist's Statement

Although I have painted almost all my life, I consider myself a late bloomer. My early years were spent painting a shopping list of different genres: landscapes, nudes, flowers, still lifes, commissioned portraits, and illustrations for children's books. I was just plain happy to be painting and grateful that my work helped to pay the bills. While my earliest watercolors and oils were hardly masterful, the hours spent holding a paintbrush helped me to develop my technical skills as well as an eye for composition. Eventually my paintings came to look less like the work of others and more like mine.

I have always believed that as artists we don't choose our vocation. We might learn the vocabulary of color, hone our craft, scratch and claw, and persevere our way to achieve a certain level of expertise and recognition, but we don't choose our style and subject matter any more than we choose our preference for a certain flavor of ice cream. This remarkable gift of art is something I can't explain any more than I can say how I ended up in South Carolina, painting a group of African American women, or how I ended up along the Moon River in Georgia, painting a crabber, or in Scottsdale, Arizona, sketching a tattoo artist. Art chooses us.

I have been especially fortunate that my work has been the instrument for many lasting and meaningful relationships. There have been many who have encouraged me along the way, especially in the lean years, when kind friends bought my work and probably stored the paintings in a closet. Others have tirelessly and continuously cheered me on from behind the scenes: my husband, Smitty; my manager, Katie Lindler; the staff at Coleman Fine Art; and my family and friends. All have given me a life that, as used to visualizing possibilities as I am, I could never have dreamed would be so good.

To be an artist is to give proof of God and the beauty that surrounds us. I have had the privilege of painting the people of our times, and in them I have discovered the profound qualities of the unrelenting human spirit. The binding commonness of our emotions is what drives me to keep painting, to keep exploring, and to want to demonstrate that painting a true portrait is far more than just capturing a likeness. Each resulting image, if done with earnestness and compassion, is a collective portrait of us all.

Mary Whyte

Mary Whyte in her studio, 2010


Photograph: Coleman Fine Art

The Artistry of Mary Whyte

On the stairway leading up to her Seabrook Island studio, Mary Whyte has inscribed the following words in a calligraphic script:








These words have served as the artist's guiding principles, and are encapsulated in her life and her art. She selected Italian as a reminder of the year she spent in Rome as an art student, and, perhaps, because that language is uplifting and inspirational. With their longstanding commitment to an artistic and operatic way of life, Italians are consummate models for a dedicated and ambitious painter who feels passionately about her art and her subjects.

Coraggio, or courage, describes the way Whyte chooses her subject matter and the conviction with which she practices her profession. Usually she is an outsider who makes tentative steps to get to know her sitters, whether they are members of a rural Amish community in Ohio or Gullah women in South Carolina who gather weekly to make quilts. She succeeded in earning the trust and the affection of the latter; Alfreda, the titular head of the group, even called Whyte my vanilla sister. Their mutual feelings of love and friendship radiate from such paintings as Red, where Alfreda is decked out in a brilliant Sunday hat. Courage was also called for when Whyte donned a cumbersome suit and mask so she could experience firsthand the responsibilities of beekeeping. Beekeeper's Daughter reflects her appreciation and understanding of how smoking the bees calms them down.

September, 2003

Watercolor on paper,

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