Really Free: The Radical Art of Nellie Mae Rowe


Really Free: The Radical Art of Nellie Mae Rowe


When I Was a Little Girl

A woman in a long blue dress hands a child fruit; they are surrounded by two seated human figures and one flying overhead, all against a multicolored background including numbers and portraits.

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Object Details


Nellie Mae Rowe, American, 1900–1982




Crayon, marker, colored pencil, and pencil on paper


19 x 24 inches


Purchase with Folk Art Acquisition Fund

Accession #


Image Copyright

© Estate of Nellie Mae Rowe/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.


Rowe captures the thwarted artistic efforts of her childhood through a series of vignettes in this work: one version of herself as a child floats across the composition, attaching drawings to the walls of her bedroom. Because her homemade adhesive attracted rats, Rowe was punished, and her mother can be seen holding a reed in one hand and a sweet fruit for her daughter in the other at the picture’s center. One of the dolls that Rowe made from dirty laundry appears at right, waiting to be played with and ultimately undone on wash day.