Public Program

Lecture: Leslie Umberger on Self-Taught Artists

Gamechangers: American Self-Taught Artists Shift the Narrative

During the 20th century, there was an unprecedented rise of American self-taught artists—from little-known painters and sculptors to a distinctive cohort of creators who made the art world take notice. Martín Ramírez, Nellie Mae Rowe, Judith Scott, Bill Traylor, and Joseph E. Yoakum are among those who asserted their perspectives and presences through creative acts despite societal, racial, gender-based, and other obstacles. Although working individually, they collectively redefined who could be seen as an accomplished artist. Leslie Umberger discusses “gamechangers”—artists whose autonomous paths, along with the critical debates surrounding their work, shifted the story of art in the U.S. in profound and lasting ways.

This lecture is presented in conjunction with the Menil Drawing Institute’s exhibition, Joseph E. Yoakum: What I Saw, on view through August 7, 2022.

Attending the program:

This program takes place in the Menil Drawing Institute, located at 1412 W. Main St. Further information regarding accessibility and parking can be found here. Seating is available on a first-come, first-served basis.

About the speaker:

Leslie Umberger is the curator of folk and self-taught art at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. Her recent projects include the acclaimed 2018 retrospective Between Worlds: The Art of Bill Traylor and the reinstallation of SAAM’s galleries for folk and self-taught art. Between Worlds was accompanied by a major monograph, copublished by SAAM and Princeton University Press. Other notable publications include Something to Take My Place: The Art of Lonnie Holley (2015); Untitled: The Art of James Castle (2014); and Sublime Spaces & Visionary Worlds: Built Environments of Vernacular Artists (2007). Her forthcoming exhibition and book, We Are Made of Stories: Self-Taught Artists in the Robson Family Collection, chronicles over a century of art by self-taught creators in America.