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Inside the Outside

Five Self-Taught Artists from the William Louis-Dreyfus Foundation


Bill Traylor (American, 1854-1949). Man in Hat and Spotted Shirt Pointing

Bill Traylor (American, 1854-1949). Man in Hat and Spotted Shirt Pointing, 1939-1942. Poster paint and pencil with string on cardboard. 12 x 9 13/8 inches. The William Louis-Dreyfus Foundation. © Bill Traylor.

Willie Young (American, b. 1942). Untitled, 1979

Willie Young (American, b. 1942). Untitled, 1979. Graphite on paper. 50 x 40 inches. From the Louis-Dreyfus Family Collection, courtesy of the William Louis-Dreyfus Foundation Inc. © Willie Young.

James Castle (American, 1899-1977). Untitled (Interior), n.d.

James Castle (American, 1899-1977). Untitled (Interior), n.d. Soot on found paper. 11 1/8 x 12 3/8 inches. From the Louis-Dreyfus Family Collection, courtesy of the William Louis-Dreyfus Foundation Inc. © 2017 by James Castle Collection and Archive. All rights reserved.

Thorton Dial (American, 1928-2016). Blue Fish Under the Tree, 1994

Thorton Dial (American, 1928-2016). Blue Fish Under the Tree, 1994. Mixed media on paper. 36 x 25 inches. From the Louis-Dreyfus Family Collection, courtesy of the William Louis-Dreyfus Foundation Inc. © 2016 Estate of Thornton Dial / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Nellie Mae Rowe (American, 1900-1982). Big Cat, c. 1980

Nellie Mae Rowe (American, 1900-1982). Big Cat, c. 1980. Ballpoint pen and felt-tip marker on paper. 20 1/2 x 30 inches. The William Louis-Dreyfus Foundation. © The Judith Alexander Foundation with the Family of Nellie Mae Rowe.

An upcoming exhibition
at The Baker Museum

September 5 – September 27, 2017


This exhibition features the work of five visual artists who operate within the genre of “self-taught art,” a sweeping term applied to artists who, for various reasons, did not benefit from, nor were influenced by, a formal art education. From Nellie Mae Rowe’s vivacious patterned drawings of animals to the hushed and serene rural landscapes of a silent James Castle and the animated tableaux of Southern life created by an observant, people-loving Bill Traylor, these artists used found and repurposed materials to describe worlds that hover between the real and the fantastical.

Willie Young has used paper for wrapping carpets as a medium, taking a highly adaptive and functional material to an altogether new level with finely crafted and delicate images. Like the other artists included here, his art blends aspects of his immediate reality with a profoundly innovative world. Whereas Thornton Dial worked with everyday materials on a larger scale to create expressive scenes, which often address history, politics and world events from a critical perspective.

Though grouped under the self-taught heading, their work could not be more distinct. By identifying a select group of artists to consider within this rubric, the exhibition examines the vastly different realities that can inspire an individual to create ambitious and lasting artworks that do not fit neatly into the trends of mainstream-art practice. Drawing is a major presence in this exhibition; it is an immediate, inexpensive and intimate medium for artists of humble means from any background. The artists featured here pursued their passions while holding jobs that ranged from steel working to shoe shining. Modest, lightweight and transportable materials had obvious benefits, allowing for quick sketching and alteration.

William Louis-Dreyfus was an early champion of many self-taught artists and built an important collection of modern and contemporary works housed in Mount Kisco, New York. He collected art based not on any trends but because of “the conviction that the work achieves an inescapable and meaningful artistic presence.” This philosophy extends to the self-taught world; he acquired works “that transcend craft and folk traditions and end up creating, first and foremost, artistic experience.”


Co-organized by Katonah Museum of Art and Weatherspoon Art Museum, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Generously underwritten by Paul and Charlotte Corddry.

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