Really Free: The Radical Art of Nellie Mae Rowe


Really Free: The Radical Art of Nellie Mae Rowe


Untitled (Woman with Curly Hair)

Drawing on ledger paper of a woman standing with hands held in front of her, wearing a black striped dress, with some yellow, green, and white, and voluminous black hair.

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Object Details


Nellie Mae Rowe, American, 1900–1982


before 1978


Crayon and pencil on ledger paper


14 x 9 inches


Gift of Judith Alexander

Accession #


Image Copyright

© Estate of Nellie Mae Rowe/High Museum of Art, Atlanta.


This group of work represents Nellie Mae Rowe’s compulsion to depict women and girls of varying ages, lifestyles, and states of being. The three drawings sharing a frame are on paper from the same ledger book and seem visually related: the figures are all adorned with colorful dresses (some with vertical stripes that mirror the paper’s lines), have voluminous hair or head coverings, and wear smiles that range from timid to giddy. In Untitled (Girl in White Socks) and Untitled (Woman in Chair), Rowe contends with issues of age: the young girl glows with energetic orange skin and a bright, perfectly matched green and white outfit, while the seated woman’s skin and clothing are comparatively drained of color, her gray pallor accentuating her exhaustion. This could be seen as commentary on the toll that life as a woman takes on one’s personal essence. Rowe elevates these experiences by drawing decorative frames around some of her subjects, connecting with a larger history of portraiture and challenging it by depicting herself and others with an empathy informed by her own identity as a Black, Southern woman.