Mary "Mama Girl" Onley, the beloved Eastern Shore of Virginia folk artist, died Saturday, August 19, 2018, after an illness.
Mary Onley, 64, of Painter, was known for her papier-mache sculptures and colorful paintings. Her works are in many private collections, in addition to a permanent collection at the American Visionary Arts Museum in Baltimore.
As news of her death spread, art lovers began posting photographs of her works with messages of remembrance on social media, including on her professional Facebook page, Mama-Girl FolkArt.
Onley started making her distinctive style of art more than a quarter-century ago, after a series of seizures and a diagnosis of severe allergies caused her to stop working in the fields of the Eastern Shore — she had done fieldwork for more than 22 years before that, since the age of 12, according to a 2016 article in the Eastern Shore News.
Looking for a new vocation, Onley began experimenting with a variant of papier-mache using strips of newspaper, Elmer's glue and acrylic paint.
Onley, who also was a pastor, said she called for guidance on the Spirit — the voice of God that would speak to her when she began working on a new piece of art.
"I said good Lord, give me something nobody's never done. Show me how to work this newspaper and glue," she said. "The Spirit showed me how to work the newspaper and glue and I started right from there, you know."
Mama Girl created her art in her home studio on a back road in Painter. She became well-known in the folk art community, often traveling to festivals and teaching classes.
Speaking about Onley's art, "It has a soul to it," said Hampton Roads, Virginia, artist and restaurateur Sydney Meers in an episode of Curate757 that aired earlier this year on PBS.
Onley's grandson, Malcolm White, in February presented two American flag pins she had made to Gov. Ralph Northam and his wife at a gala in Onancock, during Northam's first official visit to the Eastern Shore after he was elected governor.
The Accomack County Democratic Committee recognized Mama Girl with a Resolution of Appreciation plaque recently.
WHEREAS Mary Onley, whose art has earned local, state and national accolades and whose career as the folk artist ‘Mama Girl’ has spanned more than forty years;
WHEREAS Mary Onley is an exceptional community advocate and artist who has contributed significantly to the preservation and advancement of folk art;
WHEREAS Mary Onley has sculpted and designed thousands of pieces of artwork which are featured in public and private settings throughout the Eastern Shore and the rest of the United States;
WHEREAS Mary Onley has consistently demonstrated concern for the affairs of her family and community and has devoted much of her time and talents to the pursuit of the betterment of her family and community;
WHEREAS Mary Onley is renowned for using her artwork as a vehicle to express her advocacy for and support of humanitarian and democratic values, principles and ideas; and
WHEREAS Mary Onley has remained steadfast in her support of and advocacy for the Democratic Party and its candidates and initiatives;
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the Accomack County Democratic Committee, (ACDC) on this, the 1st day of August in the year 2018, that Accomack County Democratic Committee extends recognition and appreciation to Mary Onley for her outstanding advocacy and support of local, state and federal Democratic committees, candidates and initiatives. The Accomack County Democratic Committee thanks Mary Onley as she continues her lifetime of advocacy for and support of Democratic principles, values, ideas and processes.
Signed by: Parker Dooley, Chair, ACDC
Signed by: Frank V. Moore, 1st Vice Chair, ACDC