Carolina Arts logo

Feature Articles

March 2011

University of South Carolina Press in Columbia, SC, Releases New Art Book by Mary Whyte

The University of South Carolina Press in Columbia, SC, has released a new art book entitled, Working South: Paintings and Sketches by Mary Whyte. The book offers 128 pages with 55 color and 6 black and white illustrations of hard working everyday Southerners who make their world go ‘round with sweat, skill and spirit.

In Working South, renowned watercolorist Mary Whyte captures in exquisite detail the essence of vanishing blue-collar professions from across ten states in the American South with sensitivity and reverence for her subjects. From the textile mill worker and tobacco farmer to the sponge diver and elevator operator, Whyte has sought out some of the last remnants of rural and industrial workforces declining or altogether lost through changes in our economy, environment, technology, and fashion. She shows us a shoeshine man, a hat maker, an oysterman, a shrimper, a ferryman, a funeral band, and others to document that these workers existed and in a bygone era were once ubiquitous across the region.

Working South includes a foreword by Martha Severens, former curator of the Greenville County Museum of Art in Greenville, SC.

Whyte is a teacher and author whose figurative watercolor paintings have earned national recognition. A resident of Johns Island, SC, Whyte garners much of her inspiration from the Gullah descendents of coastal Carolina slaves who number among her most prominent subjects. Her portraits are included in numerous corporate, private, and university collections, as well as in the permanent collections of South Carolina’s Greenville County Museum of Art in Greenville, SC, and the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston, SC.

Whyte’s paintings have been featured in International Artist, Artist, American Artist, Watercolor, and American Art Collector, L’Art de Aquarelle, and numerous other publications. Whyte is the author of Alfreda’s World, a compilation of her Gullah paintings, as well as An Artist’s Way of Seeing and Watercolor for the Serious Beginner. Her work can be found at Coleman Fine Art in Charleston, where her husband, Smith Coleman, manages the gallery and makes gilded and carved frames.

“When a person works with little audience and few accolades, a truer portrait of character is revealed,” explains Whyte in her introduction.

As a genre painter with skills and intuition honed through years of practice and toil, she shares much in common with the dedication and character of her hardscrabble subjects. Her vibrant paintings are populated by men and women, young and old, black and white to document the range southerners whose everyday labors go unheralded while keeping the South in business. By rendering these workers amid scenes of their rough-hewn lives, Whyte shares stories of the grace, strength, and dignity exemplified in these images of fading southern ways of life and livelihood.

Here’s what a few folks had to say about Mary Whyte and her new book:

“In Working South, Mary Whyte shares incredibly moving portraits of southerners who work on the edge, invisible to mainstream America. Through her paintings, sketches, and text, she captures workers like an oyster shucker in Urbanna, Virginia; a boatbuilder in Bayou la Batre, Alabama; and an elevator operator in Jackson, Mississippi. She celebrates and honors their lives in this truly memorable volume.”- William R. Ferris, Center for the Study of the American South, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“Mary Whyte is a magnificent artist who has mastered watercolor - one of the most difficult of all painting mediums. Here, she shows us phenomenal skill in portraying rural southern life with an empathy that celebrates the spirit of her subjects, their great passion for their work, and their resilience in facing life’s hurdles. Her written narratives which accompany these images are as delightful, tender, and moving as the art itself.” - Jonathan Green, southern artist.

Working South is not only the title of a recent body of work by Mary Whyte, but also a metaphor for her personal transition from the North to the South. Through her art and sincere personality, she has worked her way into the hearts and minds of southerners, whether natives or recent arrivals. Like the many sitters in her paintings, Whyte is emblematic of a New South, except for the fact that her subjects represent industries that are shrinking, if not disappearing, while her reputation and horizons are ever expanding.”- Martha Severens, former curator, Greenville County Museum of Art, from the foreword.

An exhibition of works from Working South will travel throughout the South through 2013, starting in South Carolina. The schedule includes: Mar. 9 - Sept. 18, 2011, at the Greenville County Museum of Art in Greenville, SC; Dec. 1, 2011 - Mar. 11, 2012, at the Morris Museum of Art in Augusta, GA; May 4 - Sept. 9, 2012, at the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston, SC; Oct. 5, 2012 - Feb. 24, 2013, at the Telfair Museum of Art in Savannah, GA; and Apr. 6 - July 7, 2013, at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Newort News, VA.

Working South: Paintings and Sketches by Mary Whyte - 10” x 11 1/2”, 128 pages, 55 color illus., 6 black & white illus., hardcover, $49.95 ISBN 978-1-57003-966-9, paperback, $29.95, ISBN 978-1-57003-967-6.

For further info contact Jonathan Haupt at USC Press by calling 803/777-2021 or e-mail to (

[ | March 2011 | Feature Articles | Carolina Arts Unleashed | Gallery Listings | Home | ]



Carolina Arts is published monthly by Shoestring Publishing Company, a subsidiary of PSMG, Inc. Copyright© 2011 by PSMG, Inc., which published Charleston Arts from July 1987 - Dec. 1994 and South Carolina Arts from Jan. 1995 - Dec. 1996. It also publishes Carolina Arts Online, Copyright© 2011 by PSMG, Inc. All rights reserved by PSMG, Inc. or by the authors of articles. Reproduction or use without written permission is strictly prohibited. Carolina Arts is available throughout North & South Carolina.