Nellie Mae Rowe
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  • Nellie Mae Rowe (1900–1982)
  • Vinings, Georgia
  • 1978
  • Colored pencil, crayon, and pencil on paper
  • 19 1/2 x 25 1/4 in.
  • American Folk Art Museum, gift of Judith Alexander, 1997.10.1
  • Cow Jump over the Mone is one of three significant pictures by Nellie Mae Rowe in which she used the moon metaphorically to express feelings of self-worth and faith. The title, discreetly placed within the moon, is from the second line of “Hey Diddle Diddle,” a nursery rhyme dating from the seventeenth century that is often interpreted to allude to the court of England’s Queen Elizabeth. Rowe’s reference is not veiled political criticism but a depiction of herself—in the form of a large figure with a cow body and a woman’s head, held high—flying over a moon set against a brilliant blue sky. This African American woman, born into a segregated and restricted way of life, experienced dramatic social changes following the civil rights and women’s movements. These factors, combined with her strong, innate sense of identity, reinforced her feelings of liberation and transcendence.

    Rowe was born in 1900 in Fayette, Georgia, to George and Luella Swanson Williams, both of whom were skilled craftspeople—he an expert basketmaker, she an experienced quiltmaker. Although she had an early interest in drawing and fashioning cloth dolls, it was not until the death of her second husband, Henry Rowe, in 1948, that she turned her full attention to artmaking, including the decoration of her home and yard in Vinings. She worked with readily available materials, such as colored pencils, pencils, felt-tipped pens, and paper for her drawings, and Styrofoam food trays, wallpaper sample books, wood, and chewing gum for her sculptures. Rowe’s saturated works draw on memories of her southern environment and are imbued with life-affirming spiritual verve.
  • Photo by Gavin Ashworth