MINISTERIAL MUSES— Doors of Reckoning—2.15.2019

Posted February 16th, 2019 by anna and filed in "Real. Authentic. Florida.", Manatee County, FL, Ministerial Muses
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I was introduced to the art of Missionary Mary Proctor by Zoe and Jerry Von Averkamp. She was the first artist they invited to show in their gallery, Divine Excess Folk Art, in the Village of the Arts here in Bradenton. In truth, her work introduces itself. It speaks to the viewer from the walls in the universal language of symbols. It stirs feelings and calls back memories. It generates a sense of being connected to a larger whole and, when necessary, it heals.

Mary was born to 11-year-old Pauline Cooksey in 1960. She was raised by her grandparents, a mixed-race couple. She tells us that her white grandfather was “hated by his own peoples” but stayed with her black grandmother anyway, “stood through the test”. As for her grandmother, Mary has immortalized her in her art, telling viewers of the woman’s everyday struggles, steady values, and enormous faith.

Mary herself became pregnant in the ninth grade. (“I messed up. I just wouldn’t listen to my grandmama.”) She dropped out of school to care for her child and the additional children that her mother had produced. After her grandfather died, her grandmother began to struggle with alcohol addiction. (“She was a good woman … but she had a rough time.”)

At seventeen, Mary met and married Tyrone Proctor (“a good man”). They moved to Tallahassee. He became a fireman. She became a nurse. She left nursing after a decade and opened a day care center. Five years later, she began devoting her time to scavenging for things to sell at a local flea market. It wasn’t long before she opened Noah’s Ark Flea Market (now the American Folk Art Museum & Gallery—Where Kids and Art Come First), filling her yard with furniture, dishes, jewelry, buttons, and beads.

Then in 1994, her life changed forever. Her grandmother, aunt, and uncle died in a house fire. She had a vision the night it happened. (“I saw light going all the way up into heaven.”) Fighting suicidal darkness in the aftermath, she remembered her grandmother’s words: “If you want an answer, there is such peace surrounding a tree.” So she sat under an old oak tree with her bible and prayed for thirty days until a light came over her and she heard a voice say, “Get a door and paint”.

I am the door; if anyone enters by me, he will be saved. —Gospel of John

So paint she did. And then she added salvaged objects to the doors (and windows) to add dimension. The paintings often include spiritual messages and observances. Most often the words speak to the strength of women surviving duress, hinting at anger without ever letting it overtake the work. The art is powerful. Not everyone is comfortable with the rawness of it. (I can’t help but remember the early days of Basquiat’s career, when he was painting from the gut onto salvaged materials.) Her work, despite its challenging, straightforward content, has found its way into homes, galleries, and museums all over the country.

 

It was in the Baltimore Visionary Art Museum of Outsider and Folk Art that Zoe and Jerry discovered Mary. The museum was featuring their collection of Mary’s art doors. When the couple realized that she was a Florida folk artist, Jerry (now deceased) suggested that they drive up to Tallahassee to meet with her. They became instant friends at that first meeting. They purchased Mary’s Blue Willow Plate Story door, which Zoe still has in her studio. Zoe speaks of Mary’s beautiful soul and about how much she treasures her friendship.

 

As the world seems to be getting more and more insane, Missionary Mary L. Proctor continues to paint a compassionate universal truth that reminds people of who they truly are.

© 2019 Anna Jedrziewski and Spirit Connection New York, Inc.

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