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(1900 - 1982)

Born in Fayetteville, Georgia, in 1900, Nellie Mae Rowe lived her entire life in a rural area on the fringes of Atlanta known today as the village of Vinings. The daughter of a former slave, who worked as a farmer, blacksmith and basket maker to support his family of nine girls and one boy, Rowe showed an early talent for art. Her artistic endeavors increased after the death of her second husband, Henry Rowe, in 1948, and she continued to create until a few months before her death in 1982. Her vibrant works filled with shotgun houses, churches, flowers, trees, farm animals and people incorporate memories of the rural South, and virtually pulse with sensuality and spiritual verve.

Since her first public showing in the exhibition Missing Pieces: Georgia Folk Art, 1770-1976, Rowe's works have continued to attract attention from collectors, art historians, curators, and the public. Like the work of other African-American folk artists, improvisation and experimentation were central to Rowe's creative process, as was the use of unconventional materials (including cast-off and found objects) and techniques, flatness of form, and the rendering of subjects from memory rather than from direct observation or preliminary sketches. The drawings reveal through the wide range of subject matter and highly personal narratives, Rowe's humor, vitality, common sense and deep religious faith.

Rowe also created an extraordinary folk environment: every inch of her home's interior and yard was decorated with whimsical cloth dolls, plastic toys, enigmatic chewing gum sculpture, installations of found objects, photographic collages, and the color-saturated works on paper for which she is best known.

The Art of Nellie Mae Rowe: Ninety-Nine and a Half Won't Do, a nationally traveling exhibition, was organized in 1999 by the American Museum of Folk Art, NY, NY.

Rowe's work is included in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, NY, NY; The Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis IN; The Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia PA; The Studio Museum of Harlem, NY NY; The American Museum of Folk Art, NY NY; The Ogden Museum of Southern Art, New Orleans, LA; The J.B. Speed Museum, Louisville KY; The Morris Museum, Augusta, GA among others.

In 2004, a gift of over 100 drawings by Nellie Mae Rowe was presented to the High Museum of Art by the late collector Judith Alexander. The new High Museum expansion opened in November 2005 with a permanent gallery dedicated to Nellie Mae Rowe.

Nellie Mae Rowe is represented by Barbara Archer Gallery, Atlanta, Georgia.