Publications

This catalogue accompanies the exhibition Cosmologies from the Tree of Life: Art from the African American South, presented at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, June 8-November 17, 2019.

A new consideration of extraordinary art created by self-taught Black artists during the mid-20th century​. My Soul Has Grown Deep considers the art-historical significance of self-taught Black artists, many working under conditions of poverty and isolation, in the American South. It features paintings and drawings, mixed-media and sculptural works, and quilts, including pieces ranging from the pioneering paintings of Thornton Dial (1928–2016) to the renowned quilts made in Gee’s Bend, Alabama.

For a new exhibition launching at the National Gallery of Art, curator Lynne Cooke explores shifting conceptualizations of the American outlier across the 20th century, drawing on the inherent sociality of the exhibition in her installation of these works. This companion catalog, "Outliers and American Vanguard Art," offers a fantastic opportunity to consider works by schooled and self-taught creators in relation to each other and defined by historical circumstance.

While the artists featured in this groundbreaking catalog were born in the Jim Crow period of institutionalized racism, their works embody the promise and attainment of freedom in the modern Civil Rights era and address some of the most profound and persistent issues in American society, including race, class, gender, and spirituality. Originally created as expressions of individual identity and communal solidarity, these eloquent objects are powerful testaments to the continuity and survival of African American culture. This gorgeous book features lush illustrations of works by artists such as Thornton Dial, Bessie Harvey, Purvis Young, and the Gee's Bend quilters--including Gearldine Westbrook, Jessie T. Pettway, and more--and presents a series of insightful essays.

Ronald Lockett (1965–1998) stands out among southern artists in the late twentieth century. Raised in the African American industrial city of Bessemer, Alabama, Lockett explored a range of recurring themes through his art: faith, the endless cycle of life, environmental degradation, historical events, the sweetness of idealized love, mourning, human emotion, and personal struggle.

"James ‘Son Ford’ Thomas: The Devil and His Blues" accompanies the eponymous show at New York University’s 80WSE Gallery, the largest ever devoted to Thomas’ work. Thomas (1926–1993)―a self-taught African-American artist and musician who lived in severe poverty for most of his life―created small, often painted clay busts of friends and family and people he met.

The Nasher Museum published the catalogue Southern Accent: Seeking the American South in Contemporary Art on the occasion of the exhibition. The catalogue was honored with a “Merit Award” as part of How International Design Awards of 2017, administered by How Magazine.

After the death of Martin Luther King Jr., Alabama produced an impressive number of African American self-taught artists whose work particularly focused on the Civil Rights Movement and on aspects of history that led to it. This happened, in part, because the action was right on their doorsteps: Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Selma March, the murder of four little girls in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. It was a spontaneous response to an emerging opportunity, and it occurred all over the South.

This catalogue was published by the Halsey Institute to accompany the exhibition "Something to Take My Place, The Art of Lonnie Holley." It contains reproductions of over 70 of Holley’s assemblage works and provides a comprehensive overview of Holley’s art, life, and philosophy.

"When the Stars Begin to Fall: Imagination and the American South" queries the category of "outsider" art in relation to contemporary art and black life. The catalogue includes entries by Thomas J. Lax, along with leading scholars Horace Ballard, Katherine Jentleson, Scott Romine and Lowery Stokes Sims, who write on notions of spirituality, the ethics of self-taught art and the idea of the South in the American project.

Thornton Dial (b. 1928), one of the most important artists in the American South, came to prominence in the late 1980s and was celebrated internationally for his large construction pieces and mixed-media paintings. It was only later, in response to a reviewer’s negative comment on his artistic ability, that he began to work on paper. And it was not until recently that these drawings have received the acclaim they deserve. This volume, edited by Bernard L. Herman, offers the first sustained critical attention to Dial’s works on paper.

Creation Story explores parallels and intersections in the works of Dial and his fellow Alabamians, the remarkable quilters of Gee’s Bend. In the tradition of African American cemetery constructions and yard art, these artists harness the tactile properties and symbolic associations of cast-off materials in creating an art of profound beauty and evocative power.

Celebrating Thornton Dial’s contributions to American art, this book surveys the career of one of our most original contemporary artists, whose epic work tackles the most compelling social and political issues of our time. This monograph includes reproductions of 70 of Dial’s large-scale paintings, drawings and found object sculptures spanning twenty years of his artistic career.

Mary Lee Bendolph’s extraordinary patchworks garnered national attention when they were featured among the works of other quiltmakers from her tiny, predominately African American community in the 2002 blockbuster exhibition and book, The Quilts of Gee’s Bend. This beautiful book examines Bendolph’s inspiration, creative process, and individual genius, as well as her profound connection to the cultural practices and expressive traditions out of which her work arises. 

This book and exhibition are part of a growing family of research projects about the African American community of Gee’s Bend, Alabama, and its quilts. Surrounded on three sides by a river, Gee’s Bend developed a distinctive local culture and quilt design aesthetic. In 2002 the inaugural exhibition The Quilts of Gee’s Bend documented these quiltmaking achievements. Expanding upon that initial exhibition and its accompanying publications, Gee’s Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt offers a deeper look into the women and their art, and a more focused investigation into the nature and inspirations—and future—of the Gee’s Bend quilt tradition.

Since 2000, Thornton Dial (born 1928) has embarked on one of the most remarkable creative journeys in American visual art. Following his discovery by the art world in the late 1980s, he became in the 1990s a widely known American artist. Coinciding with the turn of the millennium, Dial has spent the eighth decade of his life on overlapping cycles of epic-scale artworks that summarize the grand sweep of his improbable life’s story.

This two-CD collection offers a rare audience with the music that has bonded the community and its people. The songs, many of which were unrehearsed, were recorded on church grounds, on porches and in the yards, kitchens and living rooms of the citizens of Gee’s Bend.

The women of Gee’s Bend—a small, remote, black community in Alabama—have created hundreds of quilt masterpieces dating from the early twentieth century to the present. The Quilts of Gee’s Bend tells the story of this town and its art.

Gee’s Bend quilts carry forward an old and proud tradition of textiles made for home and family. They represent only a part of the rich body of African American quilts. But they are in a league by themselves. Few other places can boast the extent of Gee’s Bend’s artistic achievement, the result of both geographical isolation and an unusual degree of cultural continuity. In few places elsewhere have works been found by three and sometimes four generations of women in the same family, or works that bear witness to visual conversations among community quilting groups and lineages. Gee’s Bend’s art also stands out for its flair—quilts composed boldly and improvisationally, in geometries that transform recycled work clothes and dresses, feed sacks, and fabric remnants.

Completing the two-volume set, "Souls Grown Deep, Vol. 2" takes the visual and historical presentation of the first volume to a richer level, offering an even broader array of artistic styles and media. Breaking away from the stereotypes that identity folk art and the South with rural, isolated, static and agrarian ways of life, these pages unveil an art that embodies social change and continues to flourish at the dawn of a new century.

The African American culture of the South has produced many of the twentieth century’s most innovative art forms. Widely appreciated for its music—from the blues and jazz, to gospel, soul, rock ‘n’ roll—the region has also played host to a less visible but equally important visual art tradition.

Amiri Baraka and Thomas McEvilley

Thornton Dial has been "making things . . . just for myself" for much of his life. In 1987 fellow Alabama artist Lonnie Holley heard about Dial's fantastic objects and went to visit him. Now, with "Thornton Dial Image of the Tiger," the first major monograph on his art, he moves to the forefront of artists expressing alternatives to Western art-historical conventions.