(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,