Mary T. Smith: Mississippi Metal On Highway 51

Institute 193

215 North Limestone, Lexington, Kentucky 40507

Friday, April 19th
11:00am - 6:00pm EDT
Saturday, June 8th
11:00am - 6:00pm EDT

Mary Tillman Smith arrived in Hazlehurst, Mississippi shortly after the dissolution of her second marriage. She had promptly ended her first after just two months, when she discovered that her husband had been deceiving her. Smith's second was brought to a close by the boss of her sharecropping husband, who didn’t appreciate her exceptionally precise record keeping. When Smith confronted the boss, revealing that her husband had been paid a mere 1.5% of what he should have received for the year’s labor, the husband was given the choice between his job and his wife. He chose the job.

Freed from unpalatable domestic arrangements, Smith moved to Hazlehurst, the largest town in the region, then home to around 3,000 people. There, she had a son, and the boy’s father built her a house in which to raise him. Understandably, given her life experience, she chose not to marry the father.

Smith’s house sat on an acre of land overlooking Highway 51, the busiest road in Hazlehurst and the primary north-south artery between New Orleans and the industrial centers of the upper midwest in the years prior to the construction of the Interstate system. Nearby was a junkyard, from which Smith began dragging home a plethora of discarded corrugated tin. Using an ax to split the metal into strips, she then whitewashed them and wove them into a fence, creating a structure which both demarcated and brought attention to her space. The fence, along with numerous other structures Smith built around her house and land, gradually became home to her paintings.