Orlando Pride uniforms pay homage to Black artist Mary Ann Carroll
A late member of the Florida Highwaymen artist collective, her style is captured in the NWSL team’s home 2023 kit
As the only woman in the Florida Highwaymen artist collective, Mary Ann Carroll used to sell her 12-inch by 24-inch paintings on the side of the road for $12 in the late 1950s. The group was known for its dreamy, vibrant interpretations of Florida landscapes, saturating its brushes to create richly hued sunsets and palm trees leaning languidly over the water.
Emerging from the Jim Crow era, the Florida Highwaymen — all of its members are Black — were denied opportunities to sell their art in galleries, so they turned their cars into showrooms and sold their work from moving exhibitions. Carroll was not a trained artist; she picked up the basics from a veteran painter of the group and ultimately contributed to more than 200,000 Highwaymen paintings.
Carroll died in 2019. Her legacy of determination and prolific creativity will be intertwined with the Orlando Pride as the National Women’s Soccer League team unveils its Highway Woman home kit. The purple jersey features a custom embellishment in the lower right corner that honors Carroll’s life and work with the silhouette of a Royal Poinciana tree native to Florida, and her signature above a title the team reimagined for her: Florida Highway Woman.
The tribute is the result of a conversation between the Pride and the Carroll family estate that started more than two years ago and will take on renewed significance for a team that hired the first full-time Black head coach in league history in November 2022 and has two Black assistant coaches. No other team in the league currently has a Black head or assistant coach.
The Pride also collaborated with Carroll’s daughter, Wanda Renee Mills, on the project. As the manager of her mother’s estate, Mills has been steadfast in ensuring the preservation of her mother’s hard-won accomplishments. Despite being well known throughout the state, the Florida Highwaymen’s paintings were largely undervalued in the art world for their self-taught and organic approach, besides being created by Black artists. That was until the collective was inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame in 2004, catapulting the prices for its paintings from the low double-digits to as much as $3,500 apiece.
Carroll’s legacy lives on through Mills, who is featured in the Highway Woman kit launch video. It opens with a shot of Mills driving a car up to a studio set in a direct homage to her mother’s days of selling her paintings with the Highwaymen. She is soon joined by Marta, who needs no other introduction than the iconic No. 10 jersey she’s wearing. Other Pride players follow: recent signees Messiah Bright, Emily Madril, Kerry Abello, and Brazilian Adriana; and returning players Ally Watt, Viviana Villacorta, and Haley McCutcheon. Together they approach a white canvas and swipe paintbrushes across it, boldly filling it with color in front of a gilded frame.
Mills brought Carroll’s original painting easel and handwritten color wheel to the set, items she said were meant to be private family heirlooms but deserved to be in the spotlight. She’s more of a baseball and hockey fan, but Mills still enjoyed meeting and working with the Pride players on the video and saw clear parallels between the team’s goals for the season and her mother’s work.
“The cool part about Mother is that she was the epitome of strength,” Mills told Andscape. “If she could have been there, she would have been downright over the moon because she loves to see solidarity, she loves uniforms, she loves strong and powerful women, and more than anything, she loves independence.”
Orlando Pride and Orlando City FC creative director Mark Lowyns joined the clubs after the plan to memorialize Carroll’s art was underway, and he contributed his vision for a fresh, innovative kit release. Like all other clubs, the Highway Woman kit required the club’s cooperation with the NWSL and Nike, and compliance with league rules and broadcast requirements to ensure the jerseys are visible on camera.
“Being inspired by an artist, you also have to understand that the medium we’re delivering that story [through] is a jersey,” said Lowyns, who co-founded the Fly Nowhere creative studio for soccer and culture. “You have to toe the line between inspiration and some creative leaps that help tell the story and show the inspiration, yet remain true to the team and its fans, and on-field responsibility of the club.”
Lowyns cited the new kit’s light purple textured brushstrokes against the darker purple background as a subtle nod to Carroll “that isn’t necessarily a landscape painting on a jersey,” besides the jock tag as the more direct reference.
He noted the new Pride home kit is made with custom fabric with unique stitching, and that the club crest is designed in full color and woven into the jersey.
“All these details are intentional,” he said. “It’s not an afterthought anymore. It may seem like a small gesture, but in terms of manufacturing, it’s a very big one.”
The Highway Woman jersey adds another dimension to the NWSL’s burgeoning kit culture. The lead-up to the 2023 season kickoff on Saturday has been punctuated by flashy jersey drops and countless opinions about them gripping social media, from the Chicago Red Stars’ architectural Foundation kit to the Portland Thorns’ polarizing tattoo-inspired jerseys.
Embracing jersey culture is also a way for clubs to communicate their priorities to players and fans. Last month, the Pride updated its away kit by switching from white shorts to black to address the need for players to feel comfortable in their uniforms while they’re menstruating.