This exhibition celebrates the Morgan’s 2018 acquisition of eleven drawings from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation, an organization dedicated to supporting Black Southern artists and their communities. The artists represented in the acquisition are Thornton Dial, Nellie Mae Rowe, Henry Speller, Luster Willis, and Purvis Young. In the last three decades, exhibitions and publications have established the rightful place of figures such as Dial and the quilters of Gee’s Bend, Alabama, in the canon of twentieth-century art. The focus has often been on the impressive works of assemblage—whether of found objects or fabric—that have emerged from the Southern United States. Artists only one or two generations removed from slavery, and subjected to the abuses of Jim Crow, developed ingenious formal techniques using found materials and skills learned outside the classroom and studio. Many, like Dial, Rowe, and Lonnie Holley, exhibited their creations at their homes in elaborate “yard shows,” drawing the attention of passersby and art-world figures alike.
The focus of this exhibition—which also incorporates institutional and private loans of works by Holley, Rowe, Sister Gertrude Morgan, and Bill Traylor—is the medium of drawing. Like assemblage, drawing is an art of “making do.” Its accessibility and directness have always appealed to both artists and their audiences. While some works in the gallery were produced on traditional artist’s papers, others incorporate the unique qualities of found supports. The range of media includes watercolor, ballpoint pen, crayon, and even glitter. But the impact of these works ultimately transcends their innovative means. Although each of the eight artists represented speaks with a distinctive voice, the intimate space of the Morgan’s Thaw Gallery illuminates formal and thematic connections that arise from their shared geographies and experiences.
Another Tradition: Drawings by Black Artists from the American South is made possible by Katharine J. Rayner.