The Art of Missionary Mary Proctor

Bitter Southerner, November 2016

I admit it. I thought I’d drive to Tallahassee to visit Mary Proctor as if I were on some spiritual journey, where I’d be graced by her magnetic presence and mystical wisdom, then return home, my infant son glowing on my newly enlightened hip.

Write, wait for publication; wave away compliments with a demure smile.

But expecting a black artist to shine light on a white woman’s life to make for a good essay is stereotypical at best, racist at worst, and it’s as careless as telling Mary’s story as it’s been told before, like a fairytale — “Triumph Over Tragedy in American Folk Art!” I was really setting out to discover some capital-T truth about who Mary is and why her art breeds kindred with her fellow Southerners.

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