Freehand: Drawings by Inez Nathaniel Walker, the artist’s first one-person museum exhibition, will open with a lecture on Friday, February 1, 2019, in Taylor Hall 102 at 5:30pm, followed by a reception at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at 6:30pm, and will be on view February 1 to April 14 at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College.
The exhibition, curated by Mary-Kay Lombino, gathers together fifteen works by Walker from the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center’s permanent collection, most of which were donated by the late Vermont art dealer Pat O’Brien Parsons, along with a number of key loans from private and public collections. Featuring over fifty drawings ranging from the earliest works created in prison to works made in the last year of her life, the exhibition offers a window into the worldview of the artist who had an unmistakable fervor for drawing repetitive lines and curvilinear forms to describe the features of the people around her.
A self-taught artist, Inez Nathaniel Walker (1907–1990) made her first drawings while she was serving a sentence for killing a man who had abused her. She drew portraits on the back of mimeographed prison newsletters in her free time and during a remedial English course offered to inmates. Elizabeth Bayley, who taught the course, noticed the drawings after class one day and decided to show them to Parsons, Vassar class of 1951, who ran a nearby gallery at the time. Parsons quickly took an interest in Walker and the two became good friends, with Parsons encouraging Walker’s drawing, providing her with art supplies and finding a market for Walker’s work.
Circa 1974, after Walker was released from prison, she returned to her life as a migrant worker and continued to draw. Her drawings have been included in numerous group exhibitions including Common Ground/Uncommon Vision in 1993 at the Milwaukee Art Museum, which showcased work from the collection of scholars and collectors Michael and Julie Hall. In addition, Walker’s drawings have been featured in the New York Times as well as in several encyclopedic publications of American folk art in the twentieth century. During her lifetime she is known to have completed over 1,000 drawings. She spent the last years of her life in a psychiatric hospital in Willard, New York, where she died in 1990.
Walker’s richly patterned works combine meticulous detail and playful simplicity, forming expressive depictions of her subjects’ personalities and physical attributes. Many of her drawings have a compulsive, accumulative quality to them, and exhibit the need to fill the blank space on the paper. Taken on their own, Walker’s expressive portraits draw the viewer in with their distinct style, exemplified by her unusual sense of proportion, placement, and graphic sensibility. While her life circumstances are an interesting back-story to the works, more important are the visual characteristics that permeate her drawings, the simple directness of her art, and the eloquent act of expression through portraiture.
Freehand is supported by the Friends of the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center Exhibition Fund and organized with the cooperation of the American Folk Art Museum, New York. An illustrated catalogue will accompany the exhibition.
Opening Lecture and Reception
Friday, February 1, 2019
5:30pm, Taylor Hall, Room 102
6:30pm, Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center
About the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center
The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center was founded in 1864 as the Vassar College Art Gallery. The current 36,400-square-foot facility, designed by Cesar Pelli and named in honor of the new building’s primary donor, opened in 1993. Vassar was the first US college founded with an art museum as a part of its original plans, and at any given time, the Permanent Collection Galleries of the Art Center feature approximately 350 works from Vassar’s extensive collections. The Art Center’s collections chart the history of art from antiquity to the present and comprise over 21,000 works, including paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs, and ceramic wares. Notable holdings include the Warburg Collection of Old Master prints, an important group of Hudson River School paintings given by Matthew Vassar at the college’s inception, and a wide range of works by major European and American 20th-century painters.
Admission to the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center is free and all galleries are wheelchair accessible. The Art Center is open to the public Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, 10am–5pm; Thursday, 10am–9pm; and Sunday, 1–5pm. Located at the entrance to the historic Vassar College campus, the Art Center can be reached within minutes from other Mid-Hudson cultural attractions, such as Dia:Beacon, the Franklin Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt national historic sites, and the Vanderbilt mansion. For additional information, the public may call (845) 437-5632 or visit fllac.vassar.edu.
Vassar College strives to make its events, performances, and facilities accessible to all. Individuals with disabilities requiring special accommodations must contact the Office of Campus Activities at least 48 hours in advance of an event, Mondays–Fridays, at (845) 437-5370. Without sufficient notice, appropriate space and/or assistance may not be available. Detailed information about accessibility to specific campus facilities can be found on the Accessibility and Educational Opportunity website.
Directions to the Vassar campus, located at 124 Raymond Avenue in Poughkeepsie, NY, are available at https://www.vassar.edu/visit/how-to-get-here/.
Vassar College is a coeducational, independent, residential liberal arts college founded in 1861.