Mae Hand, Small Face, 18 Years Old

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    Photo: Stephen Pitkin/Pitkin Studio
Housepaint on wood paneling
30 x 22.5 inches
Collection of
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco museum purchase American Art Trust Fund and gift of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation

In the 1940s Mose Tolliver married Willie Mae Thomas, a neighbor and childhood friend. “[She] lived one row over, when I first met her. I liked her smile.” Willie Mae served as a frequent subject for her husband, and she fought to ensure that Tolliver received fair prices for his paintings, especially since he was sometimes inclined to simply give his work away. A treasured photograph of Willie Mae as a teenager served as the inspiration for many of Tolliver’s portraits of his wife, including this remarkable reinterpretation in which she is depicted with a halo of blonde hair. —Lauren Palmor