We know just enough about Mary Ann Willson that we want to know more. What little we know about Willson comes from two anonymous letters and a short biography in Richard Lionel De Lisser’s Picturesque Catskills, Greene County, which was first published in 1894. We know that she lived in the early nineteenth century, we know that she was one of the earliest American watercolor painters, we know that her style was untaught, naive, primitive. We know that she and her friend “Miss Brundadge” moved from Connecticut to the wilds of New York State, bought a few acres and lived in a log cabin.
In the words of an anonymous letter, “The artist, Miss Willson, and her friend, Miss Brundage, came from one of the eastern states and made their home in the town of Greenville, Greene County, New York. They bought a few acres and built, or found their house, made of logs, on the land. Where they resided many years. One was the farmer (Miss Brundage) and cultivated the land of the aid of neighbors, occasionally doing some ploughing for them. This one planted, gathered in, and reaped, while the other (Mary Ann Willson) made pictures which she sold to the farmers and others as rare and unique ‘works of art.’—Their paints, or colours, were of the simplest kind, berries, bricks, and occasional ‘store paint’ made up their wants for these elegant designs.”
“These two maids left their home in the East with a romantic attachment for each other and which continued until the death of the ‘farmer maid.’ The artist was inconsolable, and after a brief time, removed to parts unknown.”