Inside the Outside: Five Self-Taught Artists from the William Louis-Dreyfus Foundation

  • May 21, 2016 – Sep 4, 2016
  • The Bob & Lissa Shelley McDowell Gallery
Bill Traylor, "Blue Rabbit Running", 1939-42, poster paint and pencil on
cardboard, 9 x 11 7/8 in. The William Louis-Dreyfus Foundation.

The enigmatic—and often humorous and dramatic—works in this exhibition survey the production of five gifted artists: James Castle, Thornton Dial, Nellie Mae Rowe, Bill Traylor, and Willie Young. Whether called “outsider,” “visionary,” or more accurately, “self-taught” art, the genre remains one of the most intriguing in modern and contemporary art. Each artist has examined an idiosyncratic reality to create works full of imaginative and visual power, works that stand beside the canon of the mainstream art world.

Three of the artists of African-American heritage grew up in the Deep South: Thornton Dial on a tenant farm in Alabama, Nellie Mae Rowe on a farm in rural Georgia, and Bill Traylor, who only began to draw and paint at age 84, born a slave in Alabama. Willie Young, also African-American, had a bit of training in a scholarship art class at the Dallas Museum of Art, but found his own voice later while shining shoes for a living. James Castle was born deaf and spent his entire life at his rural family home in Idaho.

William Louis-Dreyfus’s collection of self-taught art now numbers more than 500 works (from his overall collection of over 3,500 objects). When asked what caused him to collect self-taught art, he explains that, “I think the answer is not anything different from what propelled me to collect art itself, namely a conviction that the work achieves an inescapable and meaningful artistic presence: the quality that differentiates art from illustration.”

A publication with essays by Karen Wilkin and Trenton Doyle Hancock accompanies the exhibition.

Related programs

Director's Preview + Opening Reception • Fri May 20 @ 5/6pm 

Fringe on Film Series • Thu Jun 2 @ 6/7pm

Noon @ the 'Spoon • Tue Jun 14 @ 12pm

Fringe on Film Series • Thu Jul 7 @ 6/7pm

Fringe on Film Series • Thu Aug 4 @ 6/7pm


The exhibition is co-organized by the Katonah Museum of Art and the Weatherspoon Art Museum. Funding for the exhibition at the Weatherspoon has been provided by ArtsGreensboro and the Joseph M. Bryan Foundation.

We have six galleries located on the first and second levels of the museum, view our gallery map.