Called to Create

At times, artists seem to create as if a force within is driving their messages regardless of access to formal training, traditional art materials, or patrons. They “make-do” through use of found objects and ordinary materials, memory, and spirituality. Their art transcends the suppression and unimaginable hardships of the maker and envisions possibilities for a better, transformative world. Called to Create features works of art by twenty-five Southern Black folks who found ways to tell visionary stories through art in a world that often creates boundaries.

Hawkins Bolden (1914–2005), blind by the time he was eight years old, had an uncanny ability to create. Some of his works resemble minkisi, or medicine of the gods of the Kongo people. His assemblages were placed in his backyard in order to scare away birds from his tomato and okra plants.

Bessie Harvey (1929–1994) was a storyteller who dealt with spiritual and material well-being. Known mostly for her sculptures made from tree trunks, branches, and roots, she drew from her imagination, as is the case with the colorful image of a horned animal featured in this exhibition.

Raised by her grandmother after her mother gave birth to her at the age of eleven, Mary Proctor (b. 1960) memorializes the lessons she learned growing up, including collecting S&H Green Stamps. From the 1930s through the 1980s, S&H Green Stamps, which Proctor incorporates into her works of art, offered a popular way to purchase items that, for many, were otherwise unaffordable.

Following in her artist parent’s footsteps, Nellie Mae Rowe (1900–1982) created art in multiple ways, working with any materials she had available to her. With a vivid imagination and a strong compulsion to create, she made her home into a protective environment. Rowe’s works are found in museum collections around the country, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.

Jimmie Lee Sudduth (1910–2007) painted on any surface he could find. Using his fingers, which he referred to as “his brushes,” the artist worked with thirty-six different shades of mud, often using plywood as his canvas.

Known as one of the most important twentieth century folk painters, Mose Tolliver (c. 1920–2006) used house paint right out of the cans. He worked with four or five cans of paint at a time until they were empty. Tolliver discovered painting after his legs were crushed in a forklift accident as a young man. He eventually began painting and selling so many works that his yard and front porch functioned as an art gallery. His work has been exhibited worldwide.

Featuring the artwork from 1960 to 2016, Called to Create also includes work by notable artists such as Leroy Almon, Sr. (1938–1997), David Butler (1898–1997), Alyne Harris (b. 1942), Charlie Lucas (b. 1951), Mary T. Smith (1904–1994), and Luster Willis (1913–1990). These artists drew on their imaginative powers, allowing them to create a world that summons the divine and activates truths that are instructive. To understand these works is to witness their connection to the lived experience of their makers. From scarring comes agency; from cut tin comes protection; and S&H Green stamps provide a lesson in giving.

In these formidable statements, viewers will see the truth, power, and celebration of what it means to be Black in the American South. Additionally, the exhibition offers a fuller story of American art and advances conversations about who is represented in museums, as well as providing opportunities for community storytelling and creative recycling activities.

Organizer Bios:

Kristin Congdon is Professor Emerita of Philosophy and Humanities at the University of Central Florida, Orlando. She has published extensively on art, folklore, and multicultural education. Dr. Congdon has been president of the Florida Folklore Society, chair of the Florida Folklife Council, and has served in numerous other leadership roles, including the Director of the UCF Cultural Heritage Alliance. She has curated several exhibitions at the Orlando Museum of Art, and Crealdé School of Art and the Hannibal Square Heritage Center, both in Winter Park, FL.

Charley Williams, a Florida native, is the proprietor of the CJ Williams Collection, a private collection of more than 250 works of southern folk art, African art, and Haitian art. Williams first started collecting in the late 1990s with a focus on Haitian art, which later expanded to traditional folk art from the South, including the Florida Highwaymen movement. Works from his collection have been incorporated into several exhibitions.

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Tour Schedule

Called to Create is touring November 2023 through October 2027. The dates below reflect seven-week exhibition periods. Dates are subject to change; please contact MoreArt@maaa.org or (800) 473-3872 x208/209 for current availability.

  • November 10, 2023–January 7, 2024 Northeast Louisiana Delta African American Heritage Museum
    Monroe, LA
    pending
  • January 28–March 16, 2024 Kenosha Public Museum
    Kenosha, WI
    pending
  • April 6–May 25, 2024
    available
  • June 16–August 11, 2024
    available
  • September 1–October 20, 2024
    available
  • November 10, 2024–January 7, 2025
    available
  • January 28–March 16, 2025 Rogers Historical Society
    Rogers, AR
    pending
  • April 6–May 25, 2025 Portsmouth Cultural Center
    Portsmouth, VA
    pending
  • June 16–August 11, 2025
    available
  • September 1–October 20, 2025
    available
  • November 10, 2025–January 7, 2026
    available
  • January 28–March 16, 2026
    available
  • April 6–May 25, 2026 Refurbishment
    Kansas City, MO
    booked
  • June 16–August 11, 2026
    available
  • September 1–October 20, 2026
    available
  • November 10, 2026–January 7, 2027
    available
  • January 28–March 16, 2027
    available
  • April 6–May 25, 2027
    available
  • June 16–August 11, 2027
    available
  • September 1–October 20, 2027
    available

Exhibition Details

38 artworks; 2 panels

  • Content

    Fee Includes
    Press Kit
    Registrar’s Packet
    Programming Guide
    Gallery Guide
    Text Panels
    Narrative Labels
    Full Insurance
    Installation Instructions
    Custom-Designed and Built Crates

  • Curated By

    Kristin Congdon

  • Organized By

    ExhibitsUSA, Mid-America Arts Alliance, Kansas City, MO

  • Out-of-Region Rental Fee

    $8,400

  • In-Region Rental Fee

    $5,040

  • Duration

    7-week display

  • Shipping

    Van Line

  • Running Feet

  • Square Feet

  • Security

    Moderate B

  • Number of Crates/Total Weight

    3 estimated

  • Insurance

    The exhibition is fully insured by ExhibitsUSA at no additional expense to you, both while installed and during transit.