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 good use of found 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 communicates stories about how southern Black folks have found ways to tell visionary stories through art in a world that often creates boundaries. Blind by the time he was eight years old, Hawkins Bolden 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 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 memorializes the lessons she learned growing up. From the 1930s through the 1980s, collecting S&H Green Stamps was a popular way to purchase items that, for many, were otherwise unaffordable.

Following in her artist parent’s footsteps, Nellie Mae Rowe 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 work is 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 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 of choice.

Known as one of the most important twentieth century folk painters, Mose Tolliver 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 work of twenty-five artists working between 1960 and 2016, Called to Create also includes work by notable artists such as Leroy Almon, David Butler, Alyne Harris, Charlie Lucas, Mary T. Smith, and Luster Willis. 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, we 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 story-telling and creative recycling activities.

Organizer Bios:

Kristin Congdon is Professor Emerita of Philosophy and Humanities at the University of Central Florida. 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 shows at the Orlando Museum of Art, Crealde School of Art, and the Hannibal Square Heritage Center in Winter Park, FL.

Charley Williams is a Florida native and proprietor of a 250+ piece private collection of southern folk art, African, and Haitian works of art: The CJ Williams Collection. Williams first started collecting in the late 1990s with a focus on Haitian art, which later expanded to southern traditional folk art, 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.

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.