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The Art of Nellie Mae Rowe

The Art of Nellie Mae Rowe

By Lee Kogan
Hardcover : 9781578061327, December 1998

Memory paintings of the rural South by the daughter of a former slave


For Nellie Mae Rowe (1900-1982) the old Southern world of shotgun houses, small churches, flowers, trees, and farm animals shined in her drawings, paintings, and sculpture. A self-taught artist from rural Georgia, she began creating when she was alone after the death of her second husband in 1948. From then until her death, her dreams and memories salved her loneliness with images of a bygone day, and these she made into art.

The Art of Nellie Mae Rowe is the most substantial gathering of her work to date. Here eighty full color and ten black and white images display the artist's extraordinary intuitive color sense and the vibrancy and variety of her work.

She used whatever materials were at hand. When painting and drawing on paper, Styrofoam, cardboard, and wood, she favored plain and colored pencils, ink and felt tip pens, and gouache. Jewelry, lace, wigs, felt hats, and eye-glasses enhanced her cloth dolls. Sculpting, she gathered found objects, marbles, and glitter and fastened them with chewing gum. In these color-saturated works, there is an exuberant and idiosyncratic self-expression.

Lee Kogan, director of the Folk Art Institute of the Museum of American Folk Art, unites the paintings and sculptures with a look at the artist's surroundings, practices, and culture. This collection of her work also includes a preface by Gerard C. Wertkin, Director of the Museum of American Folk Art, and a contextual essay by Atlanta-born Kinshasa Holman Conwill, director of the Studio Museum of Harlem.

Nellie Mae Rowe lived her entire life on the rural fringes of Atlanta in Fayetteville and Vinings, Georgia. She was one of nine daughters of a former slave who worked as a farmer, a blacksmith, and basket weaver.