Whyte's watercolors capture the 'Working South'

In her new series titled Working South, acclaimed watercolorist Mary Whyte has focused on images of people whose blue-collar lives in the rural South seldom gain notice in today’s celebrity-driven, high-tech culture. From the textile mill worker and tobacco farmer to the sponge diver and elevator operator, she has sought out and documented the faces of people whose traditional livelihoods are fast disappearing.


Working South: Paintings and Sketches by Mary Whyte opens Friday, Dec. 2 at the Morris Museum of Art. The artist’s 6 p.m. talk in the museum auditorium will be followed by a reception. The event is free to museum members and $5 for others.

Born in Ohio in 1953, Whyte exhibited artistic talent from an early age, and earned a bachelor of fine arts from Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia. In 1991, after a battle with cancer, she and her husband moved to the South Carolina Lowcountry, where he established Coleman Gallery in Charleston and she found new inspiration for her sensitive, detailed, figurative portraits.

It was a newspaper article that triggered the concept for Working South. In Greenville, S.C., to paint a bank president’s portrait, she saw a story about a mill closing, illustrated by a photo of a woman standing in front of a loom, with threads crisscrossing behind her.

Whyte began making a list of other industries fading from the Southern way of life, and set out on a journey of discovery and preservation.

The result is a traveling exhibition, accompanied by a hardcover book published by the University of South Carolina Press. Whyte’s word images are as insightful as her portraits. In the narrative to one section of the book, she writes: “You can tell when a man has done one thing all his life: he owns the air. Joe strides down between the rows of tobacco, snapping off purple flowers and tossing them behind him like spent money.”

She has said that many of the people she met while working on the series thought their stories were not worth telling. But her words and images prove they have stories important to preserve. Artist Jonathan Green said, “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.”

The exhibit will be at the Morris Museum through March 11, after which it will travel to museums in Charleston, Savannah, Ga., and Newport News, Va. For more on the artist and her work, see www.colemanfineart.com/default.asp.


THE MORRIS will celebrate A Very Merry Morris Sunday the afternoon of Dec. 4 with family activities including a gallery scavenger hunt and ornament-making, and holiday discounts in the museum store. Museum visitors will also get a chance to see the two artistic sides of Lillie Morris. She and Michel Hay will perform traditional Celtic holiday music at 2 p.m. in the auditorium, while in the Education Gallery there is a display of her series of paintings titled The January Man, based on a song by Scottish songwriter, Dave Goulder. Her show closes on Dec. 11.


OTHER FESTIVITIES planned for Dec. 4 include Elizabeth Reynolds’ pottery open house from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at her studio in North Augusta (for details, call (803) 278-1335); and a Very Berry afternoon of art and music from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Partridge Inn on Walton Way, celebrating the Berry Center’s programs for people with developmental delays.


FIRST THURSDAY events Dec. 1 include a holiday reception from 6 to 9 p.m. at MAC on Main Art Gallery in Thomson, with a pottery demonstration by Shishir Chokshi and new works by McDuffie Arts Council members. Local artists will be spotlighted in shops and restaurants for First Thursday events at Midtown along Central Avenue at Kings Way.


THE AIKEN CENTER FOR THE ARTS will host authors Steve Neifeh and Gregory Smith White on Thursday, Dec. 1, for a talk and signing of their new book, Van Gogh: The Life. The authors, who have ties to the Aiken area, have collaborated on several works, including Jackson Pollock: An American Saga, which won the Pulitzer Prize for biography. Doors open at 5 p.m. and the event is scheduled for 6 to 8 p.m. Call (803) 641-9094 for more information.


TOM NAKASHIMA 1999-2010 is on display through Dec. 16 at the Contemporary Gallery, Center for Art and Theater, at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro. Nakashima is an internationally known painter and former Morris Eminent Scholar at Augusta State University. The exhibit includes both large-scale paintings and smaller prints and drawings.


COMING UP DEC. 9: James Farmer, contributing editor for Southern Living magazine and author of A Time to Plant: Southern Style Garden Living, will speak in the Art at Lunch series at the Morris Museum of Art. Paid reservations ($10 for members, $14 for others) are due by Dec. 7.


ECLECTIC VISIONS: Art by Educators in the Central Savannah River Area will open Dec. 13 at the Morris. The show features work by art teachers from public and private schools in a five-county area.