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Past Exhibitions



Really Free: The Radical Art of Nellie Mae Rowe

High Exhibition Dates:   September 3, 2021–January 9, 2022
Traveling Exhibition Dates:  
Springfield Museum of Art from March 19, 2022–July 1, 2022

During the last fifteen years of her life, Nellie Mae Rowe (1900–1982) lived on Paces Ferry Road, a major thoroughfare in Vinings, Georgia, and welcomed visitors to her “Playhouse,” which she decorated with found-object installations, handmade dolls, chewing-gum sculptures, and hundreds of drawings.

Based on the High’s leading collection of Rowe’s art, Really Free is the first major exhibition of her work in more than twenty years and the first to consider her practice as a radical act of self-expression and liberation in the post-civil rights-era South. Rowe created her first works as a child in rural Fayetteville, Georgia, but only found the time and space to reclaim her artistic practice in the late 1960s, following the deaths of her second husband and her longtime employer.

The exhibition offers an unprecedented view of how she cultivated her drawing practice late in life, starting with colorful and at times simple sketches on found materials and moving toward her most celebrated, highly complex compositions on paper. Through photographs and reconstructions of her Playhouse created for an experimental documentary on her life, the exhibition is also the first to put her drawings in direct conversation with her art environment.

This exhibition is organized by the High Museum of Art, Atlanta.

Banner Image: Nellie Mae Rowe (American, 1900–1982), When I Was a Little Girl, 1978, crayon, oil pastel, marker, colored pencil, and pencil on paper, High Museum of Art, Atlanta, purchase with Folk Art Acquisition Fund, 2002.73. © Nellie Mae Rowe.

Click on an image below to learn more.

LINK Digital Archive

Graphic showing the Nellie Mae Rowe LINK archive pulled up on an ipad.

Take a deep dive into the High’s new LINK digital archive on Nellie Mae Rowe. Learn about Rowe’s life and artwork through interactive content, including archival materials, videos, and a historical timeline. Plus, explore the exhibition Really Free online with high resolution images and exhibition texts organized by theme.

The Nellie Mae Rowe LINK archive is the first in a new series of innovative digital publications focused on works from the High’s permanent collection.


Atlanta Magazine | “Works by folk artist Nellie Mae Rowe contemplate faith, feminism, and freedom”
The Magazine ANTIQUES
 | “Wandering Eye: Self-Taught Geniuses and a Coke from Norman Rockwell”
Forbes | “High Museum Of Art Elevates Legacy Of Nellie Mae Rowe With Overdue Exhibition Re-Framing Her Work As ‘Radical’”
Atlanta Journal Constitution | “Nellie Mae Rowe, Atlanta visionary artist, in High Museum show”
The Magazine ANTIQUES | “Art of Joy at the High”
Atlanta Journal Constitution | “Fall A&E Guide: 10 fall events you don’t want to miss”
NPR, “Museum Confidential” | “The Outsiders?”
Antiques & The Arts Weekly | “Q&A: Katherine Jentleson”
Artnet News | “Here Are the 13 U.S. Museum Shows That Matter This Fall, From a Survey of 21st-Century Feminisms in Berkeley to a Radical Art Rediscovery in Atlanta”
The New York Times | “Fall Preview: These Are the Art Shows and Events to See This Season”
ArtsATL | “‘Really Free: The Radical Art of Nellie Mae Rowe’ an exquisite undertaking”
Atlanta Journal Constitution | “Artwork of Black folk artist at High Museum”
Artnet News | “An Exhibition in Atlanta Pays Tribute to the Late Artist Nellie Mae Rowe, a Self-Taught Visionary Whose Imagination ‘Exploded Onto Paper’”
Burnaway | “Real Girl: Nellie Mae Rowe at High Museum, Atlanta”
Forbes | “Self-Taught Artists Take Center Stage At High Museum Of Art In Atlanta, With Nellie Mae Rowe In Spotlight”
Art Papers | “Katherine Jentleson: Whose History of American Art?”
Artforum | “The Artists’ Artists: Twenty-Three Artists Reflect on 2021”
The New York Times | “Best Art Exhibitions of 2021”
The New York Times | “Best Art Books of 2021”
Bookforum | “Artful Volumes: The season’s outstanding art books”

Organization and Support

Really Free: The Radical Art of Nellie Mae Rowe is organized by the High Museum of Art, Atlanta.

The High Museum of Art is pleased to acknowledge The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts for its generous support of the exhibition and publication.

Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts logo.

The Judith Alexander Foundation logo.


Major funding for this exhibition is provided by Judith Alexander and Henry Alexander and Troutman Pepper.

Troutman Pepper logo.

Generous support for the national tour of Really Free: The Radical Art of Nellie Mae Rowe is provided by the Art Bridges Foundation.

This exhibition is made possible by

Premier Exhibition Series Sponsor

Delta logo.

Exhibition Series Sponsor

Northside Hospital logo.

Premier Exhibition Series Supporters
Sarah and Jim Kennedy
Louise Sams and Jerome Grilhot
Dr. Joan H. Weens Estate
wish Foundation logo.

Benefactor Exhibition Series Supporters
Anne Cox Chambers Foundation
Robin and Hilton Howell

Ambassador Exhibition Supporters
The Antinori Foundation
Corporate Environments
Elizabeth and Chris Willett

Contributing Exhibition Series Supporters
Farideh and Al Azadi
Sandra and Dan Baldwin
The Ron and Lisa Brill Family Charitable Trust
Lucinda W. Bunnen
Marcia and John Donnell
Helen C. Griffith
Mrs. Fay S. Howell/The Howell Fund
Mr. and Mrs. Baxter Jones
The Arthur R. and Ruth D. Lautz Charitable Foundation
Joel Knox and Joan Marmo
Dr. Joe B. Massey
Margot and Danny McCaul
Wade Rakes and Nicholas Miller
The Fred and Rita Richman Fund
In Memory of Elizabeth B. Stephens by Powell Stephens, Preston Stephens, and Sally Stephens Westmoreland
USI Insurance Services
Mrs. Harriet H. Warren

Generous support is also provided by
Alfred and Adele Davis Exhibition Endowment Fund, Anne Cox Chambers Exhibition Fund, Barbara Stewart Exhibition Fund, Dorothy Smith Hopkins Exhibition Endowment Fund, Eleanor McDonald Storza Exhibition Endowment Fund, The Fay and Barrett Howell Exhibition Fund, Forward Arts Foundation Exhibition Endowment Fund, Helen S. Lanier Endowment Fund, Isobel Anne Fraser–Nancy Fraser Parker Exhibition Endowment Fund, John H. and Wilhelmina D. Harland Exhibition Endowment Fund, Katherine Murphy Riley Special Exhibition Endowment Fund, Margaretta Taylor Exhibition Fund, and the RJR Nabisco Exhibition Endowment Fund.