Nellie Mae Rowe (1900–1982), Empty Chair, 1981
Pencil, crayon, pastel, on paper, 18 x 23 3/4 in.; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation
In Empty Chair, the adult Nellie Mae Rowe, dressed in red, turns away from a celebratory tree of life surrounded by birds and animals. She looks toward death, summed up as her past and future: above the empty chair is the specter of young Nellie Mae in the green pasture, flanked by two nose-diving birds. Below the tree of life, a bird plucks the berries from a potted plant or fruit basket.
Nellie Mae Rowe (1900-1982) was raised on her parent’s farm in Fayette County, Georgia. From a young age, she worked in the fields, drawing and nurturing her creativity at every chance she got. It was not until her second husband, Henry Rowe, died in 1948 that she found the time as an adult to develop her artistic practice. Soon her house and yard - her "playhouse" as she called it - were filled with her artwork: drawings, dolls, chewing gum sculptures, and assemblages made of cast-off objects. In the 1970s, towards the end of her life, the art world began taking notice of Rowe’s work, with her first solo exhibition being held at the Atlanta Historical Society in 1976.
Nellie Mae Rowe’s work is in numerous permanent collections, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The National Gallery of Art, and the High Museum of Art.
Learn more about Nellie Mae Rowe here.
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