The High Museum of Art in Atlanta has long had a significant collection of work by self-taught artists in the American South, and this week, the institution received a gift of 47 pieces from the local collectors Harvie and Charles (“Chuck”) Abney that will further augment its holdings. The acquisition includes paintings, sculptures, and drawings by Lonnie Holley, Howard Finster, Henry Speller, Ronald Lockett, Minnie Evans, and other artists. It also features one of the most renowned private collections of work by the Atlanta artist Nellie Mae Rowe, who began creating her vibrant scenes late in life.
Rowe was the first artist that the Abneys collected, and her work will be showcased in the High Museum’s upcoming exhibition “Really Free: The Radical Art of Nellie Mae Rowe,” which is due to open in September. That show, the first major presentation of the artist’s work in over two decades, will feature pieces by Rowe in the High’s collection as well as works from the Abneys’ gift and bequest.
Rand Suffolk, director of the High Museum, said in a statement, “Without question, this gift underscores the international importance and distinction of our folk and self-taught collection–in particular, by further highlighting the remarkable contributions of Southern artists.”
Chuck Abney said, “Here in Atlanta, in the late 1970s, we were exposed to the works of African American self-taught artists at the Judith Alexander Gallery. As early collectors, we had access to the best of this art. Our first purchase in 1980 was a Nellie Mae Rowe drawing from the Alexander Gallery, and our last was a Ronald Lockett collage in 2019 from Christie’s Auction House in NYC. A lot of fun happened in between!”
View a selection of works from the gift to the High Museum in the following slideshow.