Mary Tilman grew up in a poor family of Mississippi sharecroppers. She worked very hard during her childhood and received only elementary education at a local church school. She married twice - in 1922, Gus William, and in 1930, John Smith - and had one son, Sherdie Major. Most of her life, she made her living as an agricultural worker. When she no longer had the strength to continue, she found a job as a domestic help, a gardener and a baby-sitter in Hazelhurst, Mississippi. In 1975, she retired and began transforming her yard into an outdoor gallery. She used all kinds of material like wooden planks or tin panels, on which she captured her everyday life : portraits of her friends and her neighbours, allegorical figures or farm animals, mostly in one or two colors. Sometimes she added signs or slogans proclaming her belief and love of God. Even if the artistic production of Mary T. Smith, similarly to the work of Bill Traylor, grows from folk art, it goes much further thanks to her originality and freedom from traditional models.
SEE ALSO :
Arnett, Paul, and William S. Arnett, ed. Souls Grown Deep. African American Art of the South. Volume I. Atlanta : Tinwood, 2001.
Arnett, Paul, and William S. Arnett, ed. Souls Grown Deep. African American Art of the South. Volume II. Atlanta : Tinwood, 2002.