Artist Mary Whyte moved with her husband to a small South Carolina barrier island ten years ago, and quite by accident met a group of senior citizens who were making quilts in a small abandoned church. Longtime residents of Johns Island and descendants of slaves, this extraordinary group of African American women welcomed Whyte to their community and changed her life and paintings in astonishing and unexpected ways.
Mary Whyte is a graduate of The Tyler School of Art and is a nationally known watercolor artist, author, and teacher. She is a resident of Johns Island, South Carolina, where she finds many of her subjects among the Gullah people--descendants of the slave culture of the barrier islands of coastal Carolina. Her works have been exhibited at and collected by many art galleries and museums. She is the author of Alfreda's World and the illustrator of a number of children's books.
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The first time I saw Alfreda, she was hauling a large pan of sloping cornbread from an enormous black iron stove. Standing in the kitchen doorway at the back of an old wooden church, I was witnessing the birth of one of her signature creations: sweet-smelling cornbread that was thick and cakelike on one end, and thin and burnt on the other, a feature caused by the slanting wooden floor underneath the heavy stove. There seemed to be not a single right angle in the whole building, the oldest African American church on Johns Island. It had been built right after the Civil War from the scavenged pieces of a shipwreck, and the kitchen looked as though it had not been updated in a hundred years.