Another Tradition: Drawings by Black Artists from the American South

Interior of gallery with white walls, wood floor, a pedastal in the center with sketchbook in disoplay case and five drawings hanging on the wall.

In the last three decades, exhibitions and publications have established the rightful place of figures such as Thornton Dial (1928–2016) and the quilters of Gee’s Bend, Alabama, in the canon of twentieth-century American 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, Nellie Mae Rowe (1900–1982), and Lonnie Holley (b. 1950), 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 is the medium of drawing. At its core is a group of eleven works acquired by the Morgan in 2018 from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation, an organization dedicated to supporting Black Southern artists and their communities. 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 mediums 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 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.

Thornton Dial, Ladies Stand by the Tiger, 1991. Watercolor on paper. Gift of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation from the William S. Arnett Collection and purchase on the Manley Family Fund. Photography by Janny Chiu, 2021. © 2021 Estate of Thornton Dial / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.