Mary Whyte

Mary Whyte: A Master of Watercolor

Mary Whyte is an American painter who is widely recognized for her masterful use of watercolor to capture the beauty and essence of the Lowcountry landscape and its people. Her paintings are characterized by their vibrant colors, delicate brushwork, and evocative atmosphere. Whyte’s work has been exhibited in galleries and museums across the United States, and she has garnered numerous awards and accolades for her artistry.

Painting by Artist Mary Whyte
Painting by Artist Mary Whyte

Early Life and Artistic Awakening

Mary Whyte was born in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1931. She grew up surrounded by the natural beauty of the Lowcountry, and it was during this formative period that she developed a deep appreciation for the region’s unique landscapes and cultural heritage. Whyte’s artistic talents emerged early on, and she began taking art classes at the age of eight.



After graduating from high school, Whyte attended the University of South Carolina, where she majored in art. It was during her college years that she discovered her passion for watercolor, a medium that would become her primary artistic tool. Whyte was drawn to the fluidity and transparency of watercolor, and she found it to be an ideal medium for capturing the delicate nuances of light and shadow that she observed in the Lowcountry landscape.

Painting by Artist Mary Whyte
Painting by Artist Mary Whyte

Developing a Unique Artistic Style

After graduating from college, Whyte returned to Charleston and began to pursue her artistic career full-time. She spent countless hours exploring the marshes, waterways, and historic towns of the Lowcountry, sketching and painting the scenes that inspired her. Whyte’s early work was influenced by the American Impressionists, and she admired the work of artists such as Childe Hassam and John Singer Sargent.

Over time, Whyte developed her own unique style, characterized by her use of bold colors, expressive brushwork, and a keen eye for detail. She often incorporated elements of Lowcountry folklore and mythology into her paintings, creating works that were both visually stunning and culturally rich.

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Gaining Recognition and Sharing Her Knowledge

Whyte’s paintings quickly gained recognition for their beauty and technical mastery. She began exhibiting her work in galleries and museums throughout the Southeast, and her work was soon featured in national publications such as Southern Living and Art in America.

In addition to her painting career, Whyte is also a passionate educator. She has taught watercolor workshops and classes for over 40 years, sharing her knowledge and techniques with aspiring artists of all levels. Whyte is a sought-after instructor, and her workshops are often filled to capacity with eager students who come to learn from her expertise.

A Legacy of Beauty and Inspiration

Mary Whyte remains an active and celebrated artist, continuing to produce stunning paintings that capture the essence of the Lowcountry. Her work is collected by museums and private collectors around the world, and she continues to inspire and educate aspiring artists.

Whyte’s legacy lies not only in her beautiful paintings but also in her dedication to sharing her knowledge and passion for art. She has touched the lives of countless individuals through her teaching, and her influence on the world of watercolor painting is undeniable. Mary Whyte is an artist who truly embodies the spirit of the Lowcountry – a place of natural beauty, cultural richness, and enduring artistic tradition.

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Mary Whyte is an American watercolor artist receiving international recognition for her watercolor paintings of contemporary realism and portraiture. In 2016 the Portrait Society of America chose Mary Whyte as the recipient of the Society’s Gold Medal. The Gold Medal is the highest honor awarded by the Portrait Society with past recipients including iconic artists such as Andrew Wyeth, Jamie Wyeth, and Nelson Shanks.

Whyte has been awarded the South Carolina Arts Commission’s prestigious Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Award, the highest honor for an artist given by the state of South Carolina. Mary Whyte presents her watercolor paintings in museum exhibitions throughout the United States and internationally. In the United States, the groundbreaking exhibition Working South was featured on CBS Sunday Morning.

The exhibition of 50 works depicted blue-collar workers in industries vanishing throughout the south, with the exhibition traveling to museums throughout the southern United States. Whyte’s works exhibiting internationally include the China and Foreign Countries International Watercolour Summit at the Nanning Art Gallery in Nanning, China, in which Mary was one of ten watercolor artists of the world invited, and The World Watermedia Exposition in Thailand.

Mary teaches watercolor classes around the world and is the author of five nonfiction books published about her life, work, and artist instruction. A biography written about Mary titled, More Than A Likeness, The Enduring Art of Mary Whyte, written by art curator and historian, Martha R. Severens, has also been celebrated in museum exhibitions.

Mary Whyte was born in Cleveland in 1953. She studied at the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia and later married and settled nearby, operating a gallery with her husband, Smith Coleman. In 1991, as she recovered from surgery and a yearlong regimen of chemotherapy, Whyte moved to the Lowcountry in search of a deeper meaning for life. She found it at the Hebron Zion St. Francis Senior Center on Johns Island, SC, where she discovered the women she portrays in Alfreda’s World.

American Artist Mary Whyte Watercolor Painting
American Artist Mary Whyte Watercolor Painting

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These women, most descendants of slaves, gather at the Center each Wednesday for prayer, song, cornbread, and fellowship. They also make quilts, a longstanding tradition brought from Africa, which they sell to raise money for the church. Erected from timbers washed up after a shipwreck, the building dates to the years following the Civil War. Johns Island, like many other sea islands, preserves traces of the Gullah culture that are still evident in the group’s language, music, cuisine, dress, basketry, and quilt making.

Initially, Whyte was a passive observer: she had discovered the women while searching for people who would model for her paintings, and some of them were shy about allowing her to paint them. Now, however, Whyte has become a participant-threading needles, serving coffee, and sharing in their joys and sorrows. She has witnessed the passing of some: Mariah, Emily, Elizabeth, and Myrtle, among others.