African American Museum

Dallas, TX



The Art of Nellie Mae Rowe: Ninety-Nine and a Half Won't Do


A collection of colorful drawings and collages, mixed media sculptures, chewing gum figures, and hand sewn dolls are featured in The Art of Nellie Mae Rowe: Ninety-Nine and a Half Won't Do exhibit at the African American Museum which will run through May 14, 2000.

The exhibition includes 90 original works created by self-taught artist Nellie Mae Rowe (1900 -1982). As the first major, nationally traveling museum exhibition to explore the full range of Rowe's talents, this show traces her development as an artist beginning in the 1940s. Also included are ten photographs of Rowe and her splendid surroundings taken by other artists, photographers and admirers.

Nellie Mae Rowe, born in Fayetteville, Georgia, lived the last 50 years of her life in Vinings, Georgia. After her second husband's death in 1948, she devoted most of her time to art. Her highly detailed and vividly colored drawings include pictures of herself, friends, barnyard animals and local personalities. Some of these drawings contain old adages and antidotes, which reflect Rowe's sense of humor as well as her abiding religious faith. Rowe also included traced images of her own hands in several works. She once stated, "I leave my hand, just like you leave you hand on the wall. When I'm gone they can see a print of my hand. I'll be gone, but they can look back and say 'that is Nellie Mae's hand'."

"The Art of Nellie Mae Rowe: Ninety-Nine and a Half Won't Do gives viewers an opportunity to witness the great spirit of creative celebration with which Rowe lived her life," says Phillip Collins, Chief Curator of the African American Museum. "While she regularly used her work as expressions of play and free invention, Rowe also created each piece with a tremendous sense of purpose."

Nellie Mae Rowe is best known for her rich drawings which represented events from her daily life and her nightly dreams. It was her "playhouse" (Rowe's reference to her own home in Vinings, GA), however, that first caught the attention of others in the 1970's. She displayed her art throughout the house, from drawings and small figurines, to life-size cloth dolls. In addition, she kept an unusual garden filled with plastic toys, homemade objects, ornaments, lights, signs, flowers and animal topiaries. In 1976, Rowe was included in Missing Pieces: Georgia Folk Art 1770-1976, an exhibition at the Atlanta Historical Society. As a result of the growing interest in contemporary folk art, collectors, dealers and curators came to see her "playhouse" and purchase her creations.

While Rowe's work has consistently been recognized by those in the field of folk art, it has not been seen widely by the public. The Art of Nellie Mae Rowe: Ninety-Nine and a Half Won't Do brings this significant artist a new level of recognition and appreciation, to both national and international audiences. Works featured in this exhibition have come from the High Museum's permanent collection, as well as private and institutional collections from around the country.

The Art of Nellie Mae Rowe: Ninety-Nine and a Half Won't Do was organized by Lee Kogan, director of the Museum of Folk Art, New York. The exhibition and catalogue are made possible with the generous support of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual arts, The Judith Rothschild foundation, The New York State Council on the Arts, and the LEF Foundation. In Dallas, generous support is provided by 7-11. Additional support provided by Friends of Folk Art of the African American Museum.

The African American Museum is dedicated to the research, identification, selection, acquisition, presentation and preservation of visual art forms and historical documents that relate to the life and culture of the African American community. The collections of the Museum combined with its related activities serve to assist all people to understand and appreciate the African American experience with particular emphasis on Dallas and the southwestern United States.

The Museum was founded in 1974 as a part of Bishop College Library. Since 1979, it has been a private non-profit institution under the auspices of the Board of Trustees of the Foundation for African American Art. The Foundation's board consists of 60 citizens from Texas who represent a variety of constituencies (business, cultural, philanthropic, education, religious and civic). In 1985 the citizens of Dallas voted $1.2 million in city bonds towards the construction of a $6.5 million new home for the Museum to be located in Fair Park, a major cultural and entertainment center near the center of the city. Construction began on the new facility July 1991 and the new facility opened November 13, 1993.

In addition, the Museum has as one of its main objectives the presentation of meaningful experiences for children and adult audiences that would not ordinarily visit a museum.

The African American Museum is located at 3536 Grand Avenue in Fair Park, P. O. Box 150153, Dallas, TX 75315-0153. For hours and admission fees please see the museum's web site.

  Click here for a streaming video on the African American Museum. Devin Talks with Kendall Ferguson From the African American Museum

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For further biographical information please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

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