May Wilson 1905–1986
A pioneer of the Mail Art movement of the 1950s and 60s, May Wilson was often referred to as the "Grandma Moses of the Underground" because she began her art career at the age of 42. Best known for her collages and assemblages, Wilson's work explores issues of gender and identity through an early feminist lens.
After raising a family in suburban Baltimore and the dissolution of her 40-year marriage, Wilson moved to New York in 1966 at the age of sixty-one. She took up residence in the Chelsea Hotel and befriended a group of avant-garde artists, including Ray Johnson, who became a friend and influence of Wilson. It was during this time that she began creating photomontages of her face stuck onto reproductions of paintings and photographs of idealized women, and mailing them to friends. Wilson also became known for her assemblages, in which she used found objects and everyday materials to create teeming compositions ranging from the symbolic to the abstract.
May Wilson was born in Baltimore in 1905. Her work has been exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Baltimore Museum of Art, the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and, most recently, in the 2020 exhibition Out of Place: A Feminist Look at the Collection at the Brooklyn Museum. Wilson is represented in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Brooklyn Museum. Woo Who? May Wilson, a documentary directed by Amalie Rothschild about the artist's life and career was screened at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Reviews of Wilson's work have appeared in several notable publications, including The New York Times, New York Magazine, Art in America and Artforum. The artist died in 1986 at the age of 81.