Really Free: The Radical Art of Nellie Mae Rowe


Really Free: The Radical Art of Nellie Mae Rowe


Untitled (Wrestler)

Drawing of a front-facing bearded figure outlined in black, wearing bright yellow shorts that get shorter toward the outside of the leg, against a light, sunny background. The figure is bare-chested and wears an ornate belt accented with blue dots.

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Object Details


Nellie Mae Rowe, American, 1900–1982




Crayon, colored pencil, and pencil on paper


Support/Overall: 11 x 8 1/2 inches (27.9 cm x 21.6 cm) Framed/Mounted: 21 1/4 x 17 1/4 x 1 1/4 inches (54 cm x 43.8 cm x 3.2 cm)


Gift of Andy Nasisse for the Nasisse Collection

Accession #


Image Copyright

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


Nellie Mae Rowe was a dedicated fan of the wrestler Claude “Thunderbolt” Patterson and drew him multiple times. She tuned in regularly to watch him triumph in the ring, one of the rare spaces where an African American man was able to physically contend with opponents without fear of retribution. In 1976, for instance, Patterson vanquished the white wrestler, Frank Donald Goodish, a.k.a “Bruiser Brody,” to win the NWA Florida Heavyweight Championship. Patterson fought for fair pay and better working conditions for black athletes, a cause that ultimately damaged his career. Today Patterson lives in Georgia and says that one of the only reasons people seek him out is because Rowe’s drawings have kept his legacy alive.