It’s March. We just wrapped up Black History Month and we now enter Women’s History Month. On Tuesday, International Women’s Day, I shared on Instagram a handful of artworks from the High Museum of Art by the great Nellie Mae Rowe.
While I will always do my best to highlight women artists regularly, today, I wanted to highlight 5 of my favorite artists who happen to be women and make folk or outsider art. It is hard to pick just five. But the National Museum of Women in the Arts challenges people to name 5 Female Artists, so if you could add a few of the names below to the likes of Frida Kahlo, Yayoi Kusama, Georgia O’Keefe, or Faith Ringgold — you’d be in good shape here.
It’s hard to currently not think of Maria Prymachenko daily. Born in the Ukrainian village of Bolotnya, just outside of Chernobyl, Prymachenko has recently become a folk hero to the people of Ukraine as her artwork has become a symbol of hope and peace. However, as the beautiful people of Ukraine continue to defend their homes from an unprovoked war crime, the Russian invasion has killed thousands of innocent civilians and even seen a museum housing two dozen artworks created by Prymachenko to the ground. While nothing is as important as the lives of innocent men, women, and children, now seems like a better time than ever to introduce those unfamiliar to the works of the great Maria Prymachenko.
Those who have followed traditional folk artists or followed @folkartwork for a while now know Prymachenko’s work. They likely know that this artist once brought Pablo Picasso to his knees, saying, “I bow down before the artistic miracle of this brilliant Ukrainian.” They hopefully know that her imagination, storytelling, vibrant colors, and quirky titles will bring a smile to your face just as she intended long ago. Maria Prymachenko’s works are inspired by Ukrainian folk traditions and shed light on the good in humanity, much needed now more than ever.
While there are mixed reports of a local Ukrainian man running into the burning museum to save a dozen works by Maria Prymachenko, people should continue to for years to tell the story and share the work of the brilliant Prymachenko.
Clementine Hunter is the Grandma Moses of the South. But of course, she had probably never heard of Grandma Moses. She likely wouldn’t have been phased one way or another if you paid her a compliment. Clementine Hunter is the prototype of self-taught artists.
I have a guess as to why you may have heard of Grandma Moses and never have heard of Clementine Hunter. One was born in Upstate New York in 1860, and one was born in rural Louisiana in 1886. It could be that one artist was friendly with Norman Rockwell, and one artist turned down a trip to the White House to meet Jimmy Carter because she didn’t want to get on an airplane to leave Louisiana. Or it could be that one was white and one was black.
Look, this is not to knock Grandma Moses and her fantastic legacy. But hopefully, this can shed more light on the incredible memory painter Clementine Hunter who, through her artwork, painted on everything from milk jugs to window blinds to wood found around Melrose Plantation, told the story of Black America in the South at the turn of the 20th century.
There may be a more inspiring and joyful artist than Judith Scott, but I couldn’t tell you who they are. Born in the middle of World War II in middle America, Judith Scott and twin sister Joyce Scott had a pretty stable early childhood until one day Joyce woke up, and sister Judith was no longer there. Since Judith was born with down syndrome, came down with scarlet fever and lost her hearing, and was deemed “ineducable,” she was sent to an institution where she spent the next 35 years of her life.
Fast forward to her reunion with her sister Joyce, they both relocated to California, where Judith eventually found herself at the Creative Growth Art Center, a non-profit that advances the inclusion of artists with developmental disabilities. Judith Scott eventually became an internationally renowned fiber artist. While it wasn’t an easy path from the start, it took about two years of attendance and a demonstration from an artist working with fiber before Judith Scott grabbed everything she could find or take and wrapped it in the cocoon-like sculptures that she created. And create Judith did. Judith Scott created over one hundred sculptures for almost two decades, and she would make, set aside, and move on. Judith wouldn’t and couldn’t communicate a title or meaning behind her work. We only know that she created some of the most intricate and outstanding sculptures of our time.
NELLIE MAE ROWE
The older I get, my clothing becomes more and more neutral, leaning towards all black. Only because, like a broken record I have relayed to my Intro to Art class daily, I will leave this here “remember, black is not a color. It is a value!”.
But when it comes to artwork, give me some color. You ask, and Nellie Mae Rowe delivers. Born in Georgia in 1900, Nellie has been making things her entire life, focusing on everything from race, gender, domesticity, African-American folklore, and spiritual traditions. Whether drawings, hand-sewn dolls, collages, and sculpture environments in her front yard, this self-taught artist didn’t let a lack of recognition stop her from art-making, which she didn’t get any recognition until she was into her 70s. Between 1973 and 1975, almost a thousand people signed the guestbook at her roadside attraction at 2041 Paces Ferry Road.
While most outsider and folk artists don’t ever seek or see financial success, in the last years of her life, it warms the heart to know that Nellie Mae Rowe finally got the due she so much deserved.
HILMA AF KLINT
Not exactly a folk artist, or even an outsider artist, Hilma af Klint trained nearly her entire adolescence and into her mid-twenties as an artist, so how does she fit in here? Hear me out. Depending on who you ask, the term “Outsider Artist” can mean many things. It’s a big umbrella. And under that umbrella, one type of art that nestles cozily is mediumistic art or a form of art, mainly painting, influenced by spiritualism.
A must-watch documentary called “Beyond the Visible” sheds light on the life and art of Hilma af Klint, one of the most influential artists of all time and quite possibly the first person ever to create abstract art. Like William H. Johnson or Jean DuBuffett, the father of art-brut, af Klint rejected her classical figure painting to make, especially at the time, “Outsider Art,” often driven by spiritism. According to af Klint, her works were so ahead of their time and groundbreaking that she wished they remained unseen until at least 20 years after her death in 1944.
YOU SHOULD KNOW THESE ARTISTS TOO:
- Grandma Moses
- Mary T. Smith
- Mary K. Borkowski
- Lee Godie
- Esther Pearl Watson
- Maud Lewis
- Minne Evans
- Monica Valentine
- Alyne Harris
- Nane Hassan
- Rosemary Ollison
- Helen Rae
- Emily Dodson
- Janet Sobel
- Bessie Harvey
- Esther Krinitz
- Christine Sefolosha
- Sarvenaz Farsian
- Anna Mond
- Jackie Bradshaw
- Dzvinya Podlyashetska
- Hannah Epstein