Artists without formal training, who learned from family, community, and personal journeys, have long been a presence in American art. But it was not until the 1980s, with the help of trailblazing advocates, that the collective force of their creative vision and presence irrevocably turned the tide in the mainstream art world. Through drawings, paintings, and sculptures that span the narrative to the abstract, the artworks in “We Are Made of Stories: Self-Taught Artists in the Robson Family Collection” convey the humanistic power of art and allow us to see the world through the lens of another.
“We Are Made of Stories” traces the rise of self-taught artists in the twentieth century and examines how, despite wide-ranging societal, racial, and gender-based obstacles, their creativity and bold self-definition became major forces in American art. This exhibition showcases 43 artists, including James Castle, Thornton Dial Sr., William Edmondson, Howard Finster, Bessie Harvey, Sister Gertrude Morgan, the Philadelphia Wireman, Nellie Mae Rowe, Judith Scott, Bill Traylor, and others, whose work was admired and collected by Margaret Z. Robson (1932 – 2014). Margaret valued their artworks and personal stories, believing both offered a truer, more complete portrait of our nation’s makers and redefined who could be an artist in America. — Smithsonian American Art Museum