Really Free: The Radical Art of Nellie Mae Rowe
September 3, 2021–January 9, 2022
Nellie Mae Rowe (American, 1900–1982), Real Girl, 1980, color photograph, crayon, ink, and pencil on cardboard, High Museum of Art, Atlanta, gift of Judith Alexander, 2003.212. © Nellie Mae Rowe.
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.
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 will offer 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 also will be the first to put her drawings in direct conversation with her art environment.
This exhibition is organized by the High Museum of Art, Atlanta.
The Magazine ANTIQUES | “Wandering Eye: Self-Taught Geniuses and a Coke from Norman Rockwell” and “Art of Joy at the High”
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”
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.
The Judith Alexander Foundation
Major funding for this exhibition is provided by Judith Alexander and Henry Alexander and Troutman Pepper.
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
Exhibition Series Sponsor
Premier Exhibition Series Supporters
Sarah and Jim Kennedy
Dr. Joan H. Weens Estate
Benefactor Exhibition Series Supporters
Anne Cox Chambers Foundation
Robin and Hilton Howell
Ambassador Exhibition Supporters
The Antinori Foundation
Louise Sams and Jerome Grilhot
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.