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Painted signs from renowned Tallahassee artist provide unexpected source of hope decades later

Published: Jul. 10, 2020 at 8:03 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - In a world full of stressful revelations, a drive by Vintage 21 Antiques, not far from Governor’s Square Mall, provides a brief distraction.

Hanging up outside its gray facade is a series of painted wooden signs. Some have chipped edges. Others have paint that has faded with the years.

All share inspirational messages of hope and faith. All were painted decades ago by Mary Proctor, a folk artist with work and exhibitions in major museums across the country.

“I love what I do, I love my energy, and I love what I’ve got going on,” she said.

Proctor’s work has captured her bubbly enthusiasm and strong faith for decades.

In 1995, she opened up shop along Woodville Highway. Her eclectic outdoor space was a local favorite.

But when a zoning dispute forced her out of the location, she lost touch of some of her work, including the dozens of wooden signs used to line the fence at the entrance.

Barry Courtney is a collector and owner of Vintage 21. He and Proctor were friends at the time. He had managed to salvage the signs, putting them away into storage.

Then came a global pandemic.

“When the virus came along, the wheels started turning,” he said. “I thought the message was really appropriate for today. They have a primitive but powerful expression to them as single words.”

Proctor recently had the chance to visit the display, reflecting on work she thought had been lost to time.

“My art looks like me, because it is me,” she said. “Everything I got around me brings joy to the world.”

That joy is well earned. The 60-year-old has overcome decades of adversity, including a botched medical procedure that left her temporarily paralyzed as a young adult.

“From there I was lost,” she said. “What am I going to do? I didn’t have a job, nobody would hire me, so I had to pick up junk.”

That junk quickly transformed into vibrant pieces of folk art, and now serves as the key to her success.

She has a new studio at her home off Crawfordville Road. And she has become a regular selling art at Railroad Square. But the rediscovery of some her earliest work gives her a chance to reflect on where she’s been, and what happens next.

“The message is needed forever. Not now- but forever,” she said.

Proctor and Courtney hope to find a more permanent home for the wooden signs. They don’t have any plans in motion, but they hope a local museum or other institution could find the space to display the messages of hope and perseverance.

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