Object Lesson: Mary L. Proctor’s Freedom of Expression

Mary L. Proctor (American, b. 1960), Freedom of Expression, 1998. Costume jewelry, buttons, cowrie shells and paint on wood door. Museum Purchase, and gift of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation from the William S. Arnett Collection, 2017.176.

Mary L. Proctor of Tallahassee, Florida says she paints “the world I want to live in. I want to be peaceful. I want to see joy.” Creating art from found objects, Proctor celebrates people and especially chooses to glorify women. Proctor selects hopeful messages with intention to uplift and inspire others, often incorporating memories of things that her grandmother said to her. She views her practice as a reflection of love and healing, providing a new life to discarded objects by incorporating them into mixed media assemblages.

Proctor began painting in the mid-1990’s after her grandmother and two family members perished in a fire. During an intense period of mourning, she received a message from a spirit who told her to “Paint the way.” She began by painting portraits of her relatives on wooden doors, and credits painting with helping her through difficult times. Once she began painting, Proctor became very prolific, encrusting found objects with costume jewelry, buttons and other items with a goal of providing joy for herself and others.

Like many self-taught, visionary artists, Proctor views her work as a calling. Proctor refers to herself as a messenger, and is often called Missionary Mary. She believes that freedom can be attained through spirituality and creativity, proclaiming, “A person got to be set free, to be themselves, free from pain, hurt, anger, malice; free from hate, that bound us.”

You can see this work in person on NOMA’s second floor elevator lobby. What do you do to find peace and joy?

Tracy Kennan, Curator of Education at the New Orleans Museum of Art.

NOMA is committed to uniting, inspiring, and engaging diverse communities and cultures through the arts—now more than ever. Your gift makes a direct and immediate impact as we plan exciting new exhibitions, organize insightful programs in the museum and Besthoff Sculpture Garden, and develop new ways for you to #ExploreNOMA.