Shore Mourns Artist ‘Mama Girl’

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By Linda Cicoira — Eastern Shore folks and those from far and wide have been grieving over the recent death of Mary “Mama Girl” Onley, the folk artist who brought joy to her followers with her brightly colored whimsical papier-mâché creations for more than 20 years.

The famous woman lived near Painter and was the daughter and granddaughter of farm laborers. She did that work herself until her allergies forced her to quit.

In 1995, she found her true calling when she started making her art with newspaper, cardboard, paint, glue and even clothes hangers — all scraps she had around the house. The constant smile on her mouth and in her eyes transferred through to the flowers, cats, mermaids, crabs, crab pickers, fish, pigs, giraffes, and whatever else she made join the fun.

She told the Virginian-Pilot earlier this year that prophecy was another of her gifts. Onley said she “foresaw her late husband Donald’s death, and inexplicably dreamed of snakes falling from tumbling skyscrapers two weeks before 9/11.”

She raised six children, including a relative’s twins. And though she’s suffered allergic seizures that forced her from school in the 10th grade – at age 64, she pursued her GED.

Other artists from the area turned to Facebook to alert each other of her passing and to express their loss. “Rest in Peace sweet Mama Girl,” wrote Elizabeth Hunt, a local potter. “I will miss your beautiful dimpled smile, your warmth and compassion, your gems of wisdom, the joy and wonderment of seeing what fun new work you’d cooked up since I’d seen you last, and your indomitable, ever optimistic spirit. Your spirit lives on in these three pieces I keep in my studio and through the thousands of pieces you put your heart and soul into that have touched so many lives. Godspeed, my dear friend!”

“Love you Mary, you have been a blessing to me and all you touched,” wrote Diana Davis, a watercolor artist and instructor. “Rest in peace, dear friend,” wrote Natalie McGill. “Thank you for sharing your stories and wisdom with me. I loved your work as an artist, but I loved your beautiful soul even more. I will always remember our market days and chatting the hours away. Love and light, Mama-Girl, Mary.”

Mama Girl, Miss Mary Onley, one of the kindest, nicest, Christian women I have ever had the pleasure to call my friend,” Anne Mathews posted. “She is truly home, but will be missed. My prayers and sympathy to her family.”