Skip to Content
January 18, 2022

Major Acquisitions from Souls Grown Deep Foundation Presented in 2022 Exhibition

Missouri Pettway, "Path through the Woods"

Missouri Pettway, Path through the Woods, (Quiltmaker's Name), 1971, polyester knit, Patrons' Permanent Fund and Gift of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation, 2020.28.16

Washington, DC—In December 2020, the National Gallery of Art announced the major acquisition of 40 works from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation. The acquisition marked a watershed for the National Gallery—of the 21 Black artists whose works were included in the acquisition, only one (Thornton Dial) was already represented in the museum’s collection. This momentous acquisition will be presented for the first time in a special exhibition, Called to Create: Black Artists of the American South. On view on the East Building’s Upper Level from September 18, 2022, through March 26, 2023, the exhibition will explore the variety of ways in which the artists transform a great range of materials, from found objects to scraps of fabric, tree branches to art supplies, into imaginative and mesmerizing works.

The exhibition will feature all the aforementioned acquisitions, including quilts by artists of Gee’s Bend, Alabama, paintings by Joe Light, sculptures by Lonnie Holley, and works on paper by Nellie Mae Rowe. It also will include Joe Minter’s powerful sculpture Unlocked Chain (1998), a gift of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation in 2021. Two works on paper by Thornton Dial already in the collection, given by Auldlyn Higgins Williams and E. T. Williams, Jr. in 2015, will complement seven other works by Dial in the exhibition, including a sculpture, three painted reliefs, and several drawings. The exhibition also includes one work by Dial’s son, Thornton Dial Jr.

“The addition of 40 works from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation to the National Gallery’s collection is transformative—it allows us to tell a fuller picture of modern and contemporary art in America. We are thrilled to have the chance to share these acquisitions with our audiences, who will certainly be inspired by the creations of this incredible group of artists,” said Kaywin Feldman, director, National Gallery of Art.

Exhibition Organization and Curators

The exhibition is organized by the National Gallery of Art.

The exhibition is curated by Harry Cooper, senior curator and head, department of modern art, with Kanitra Fletcher, associate curator of African American and Afro-Diasporic art, both of the National Gallery.

Exhibition Dates

September 18, 2022–March 26, 2023

Exhibition Overview

Stretching across recently renovated galleries on the East Building’s Upper Level, Called to Create: Black Artists of the American South will delve into stories behind works arranged in a mix of styles and media. The first gallery will feature paintings by Joe Light, Ronald Lockett, and Purvis Young. Also on view, Young’s book of collages, Untitled (mid-1980s), is an example of one of several that the artist assembled from the many drawings he made of some of his favorite subjects: buildings in the Overtown neighborhood of Miami, funerals, horses, boats at sea, and people. The first gallery will also include quilts by Mary Lee Bendolph, Mary L. Bennett, and Irene Williams. All in all, nine quilts made by artists of Gee’s Bend, Alabama, will be interspersed throughout the exhibition.

The second gallery will feature a rotating group of works on paper by Nellie Mae Rowe, “Prophet” Royal Robertson, and wife and husband, Georgia and Henry Speller; two sculptures by Hawkins Bolden; and quilts by Missouri Pettway and Sue Willie Seltzer. Made with felt-tip pens, Rowe’s drawings Judith Wearing a Dress (1978) and Fish (1980) represent the highly patterned and personally symbolic drawings the artist began to make in the final years of her life in Atlanta. Fish, with its imagery reminiscent of female reproductive organs, may have been inspired by her inability to bear children.

The third and largest gallery will present sculptures by Lonnie Holley and Joe Minter; quilts by Flora Moore, Sally Mae Pettway, and Lucy P. Pettway; and six works by Thornton Dial. Made in a variety of media, Dial’s works illustrate how artists engaged with issues and events of their time. His relief paintings Refugees Trying to Get to the United States (1988) and Clothes Factory (1995) point to the struggles of migrants and the costs of industrialization, while his drawing The Last Trip Home (Diana’s Funeral) (1997) commemorates the death of Princess Diana. Also included in this gallery will be four haunting and humorous clay heads by James “Son Ford” Thomas including a rare self portrait made in 1987. The artist’s sculptures are among several works in Called to Create: Black Artists of the American South that were previously on view at the National Gallery in the 2018 exhibition Outliers and American Vanguard Art.

At the end of the exhibition, visitors can immerse themselves in Heading South, a multimedia collage showing the artists at work along with footage of the landscapes, homes, and environments in which they lived. Conveying the essential link between music and their art, the room is also filled with the sound of blues, gospel, and spirituals, sometimes performed by the artist themselves. This experience is possible thanks to the generosity of the filmmakers whose work is excerpted including Alabama Public Television, Matt Arnett, The Art Guys, Checkerboard Film Foundation/Foundation for Art and Preservation in Embassies, Linda Connelly, William Ferris, Folkstreams/Tom Davenport, Scott Ogden and Malcolm Hearn, Ethan Payne, David Seehausen, Small Change Productions: Scott Crocker and Toshiaki Ozawa, Visby, Inc./ Ryan Kindahl. Thanks to Maris Curran for excerpts from her film, While I yet Live. Special thanks to Danielle Beverly and Marco Williams for permission to excerpt from Lonnie Holley: The Truth of the Dirt, which can be streamed on Vimeo and other platforms.

Related Programs

Called to Create Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon
September 24, 2022, 10:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
National Gallery of Art Library
Registration is required and opens Friday, September 16 at noon

Amplify the representation of Southern Black artists on Wikipedia during this in-person edit-a-thon in the National Gallery of Art Library inspired by our exhibition, Called to Create: Black Artists of the American South. Attendees will learn how to contribute to Wikipedia, create and improve Wikipedia articles about Black artists of the American South, and explore Called to Create in a curator-led tour of the exhibition.

No Wikipedia editing experience is necessary—training will be provided. Reference materials from the library’s collection will be available for research. (Please bring your own laptop. Wikimedia DC has two laptops to loan. Email [email protected] if you would like to reserve one.)

National Gallery Nights
October 13 and November 10, 2022, 6:00 to 9:00 p.m.
East Building
Registration is required. Details at nga.gov/nights

This beloved evening program offers a chance to enjoy the exhibition after hours alongside music and live performances, self-guided tours, hands-on art-making, and other activities, free of charge.

Films
Big Chief, Black Hawk
October 1, 2:00 p.m.
East Building Auditorium
Registration at nga.gov/films

Jonathan Isaac Jackson and Paul V. Fishback in person
Big Chief, Black Hawk centers the life and work of Terrance Williams Jr., aka Big Chief Tee, of The Black Hawk Hunters, a Mardi Gras Indian Tribe that carries on the long-standing Mardi Gras Masking Indian tradition in New Orleans. Every year, Big Chief Tee and his tribe create elaborate and beautiful suits to parade in every Mardi Gras morning. Exploring aspects of Mardi Gras Masking Indian culture, relationships between Native Americans and African Americans in and around New Orleans, and the changing demographics of the city, this title gives insight into contemporary challenges and boundless creativity in the face of change (Jonathan Isaac Jackson, 2021, 52 minutes).

Thumbs Up for Mother Universe: Stories from the Life of Lonnie Holley
November 27, 2:00 p.m.
East Building Auditorium
Registration at nga.gov/films
George King and Lonnie Holley in conversation

Jeannette preceded by The Man is the Music and While I Yet Live
March 18, 2:00 p.m.
East Building Auditorium
Registration at nga.gov/films

Lectures
Beyond Category: First Thoughts on “Called to Create”
November 1, 2022, 3:00 pm
East Building Auditorium
Registration at nga.gov/lectures

Dr. Maxwell L. Anderson, author, art historian, arts administrator, and president of Souls Grown Deep Foundation and Community Partnership; Harry Cooper, senior curator and head of modern and contemporary art, National Gallery of Art; Raina A. Lampkins-Fielder, curator at the Souls Grown Deep Foundation; and Mary Margaret Pettway, Gee’s Bend quilter, Alabama Humanities Foundation fellow, instructor at the Black Belt Treasures Cultural Arts Center, and board chair of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation

Symposium
March 2023
Organized by the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts

Internship

Coinciding with Called to Create a nine-month undergraduate internship at the National Gallery is sponsored by the Souls Grown Deep Foundation. The paid, part-time position provides institutional training to a college student interested in exploring museum careers. Based in the curatorial department of modern and contemporary art, the intern may also work with other departments involved in the exhibition, such as conservation, education, programs, or communications. 

Contact Information

General Information
For additional press information please call or send inquiries to:
Department of Communications
National Gallery of Art
2000 South Club Drive
Landover, MD 20785
phone: (202) 842-6353
e-mail: [email protected]

Chief of Communications
Anabeth Guthrie
phone: (202) 842-6804
e-mail: [email protected]

Newsletters
The National Gallery also offers a broad range of newsletters for various interests. Follow this link to view the complete list.

Related Resources