Nellie Mae Rowe was born in 1900 in Lafayette, GA., but lived in Vinings. She is known for creating imaginative works of art. Her sculptures made of found objects and drawings were inspired by her faith in God. Her father has previously been enslaved, and her mother was born after emancipation. Both of Rowe’s parents were creative. Her mother was an expert quilter, and her father was a basket weaver. They both encouraged Rowe in her art. When she was a child, she would lie down on the floor and draw every chance she got.
After she was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 1981, Rowe increased her art output. She believed that she had been given this artistic talent by God, and she wanted to prove to Jesus that she was worthy of it. She considered her art to be a connection to and a way to honor God. She would draw people and ask the Lord to help them. Drawing to her was most akin to praying.
Rowe was also inspired by current events. Between 1979 and 1981, more than 20 Atlanta-area children were sexually molested and murdered. Rowe created several drawings on the subject because she believed they would protect the children. Her 1981 work “Atlanta’s Missing Children” features five charms and the color blue, traditionally used to ward off evil spirits in the homes of Southern African Americans.
Photo courtesy of Souls Grow Deep (Image: Jay Wieland, 1981).