Southern Agenda

Folk Heroes

“The artists in We Are Made of Stories: Self-Taught Artists in the Robson Family Collection followed their own stars and shaped artistic practices that suited their needs in a particular time and place,” says Leslie Umberger, a curator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, which recently opened the powerful exhibition of self-taught artists’ work (it runs through March 26, 2023). “Some used art as a means of bearing witness, others for asserting presence and identity,” she says. “Some used art as a language that transcended the verbal.” The exhibition traces the rise of forty-three artists in the twentieth century—close to half of them from the South, including Alabama’s Bill Traylor, who drew graphic silhouettes on paperboard, and South Carolina’s Sam Doyle, who painted scenes of St. Helena Island life on tin siding. While most of the artists have been recognized in museums, several remain largely unknown, their art an uncredited tribute to the creative human spirit.