Outsider Art is Now on the Inside!

What is an Outsider Artist anyway?

….the artist is naive…a loner…never been in an art school or gallery…makes disturbing images…has a vision…

William “Bill” Traylor

Construction with Exciting Event, 1939-42
Bill Traylor

Bill Traylor was most likely born around 1853. He was a slave on a cotton plantation in Alabama. Traylor began drawing at the age of 82 and his “studio” was on the sidewalks of Montgomery, Alabama. Only after his death was he recognized as a great talent.

The rough-edged drawings have an uneven geometry that turns every human gesture into a mangled dance.

THE SMITHSONIAN AMERICAN ART MUSEUM (SAAM) mounted the first-ever major exhibition devoted to the work of an artist born a slave.

Gertrude Morgan

Jesus is my Airplane, 1970
Sister Gertrude Morgan

Sister Gertrude Morgan was a poet, a preacher, an artist, and a singer who loved Jesus. She called Jesus her husband, her doctor, and her airplane (yes, airplane), and claimed to have met with him in visions throughout her life.

Born on a farm in Alabama in 1900, Sister Gertrude left school after third grade so that she could help her family with the farm work.

Preaching the gospel tirelessly in the streets of New Orleans, Sister Gertrude founded an orphanage and ministered to the sick and the inmates of Orleans Parish Prison for years.

Sister Gertrude’s paintings were little figures of herself in a white bridal gown standing beside a pudgy little Jesus wearing a tuxedo. Other images pictured her and Jesus in an airplane flying around heaven.

She was adamant that her paintings were divinely inspired and indeed, perhaps they were.

Sister Gertrude died in 1980, at eighty years of age. Her paintings have been exhibited and celebrated in prestigious museums such as the American Folk Art Museum and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

“Jesus is My Airplane” sold to a private collector for $20,700.

Henry Darger

Jenny and Her Sisters are Nearly Run Down be Train, 1970
Henry Darger Jenny and Her Sisters are Nearly Run Down by Train Henry Darger

Henry Darger’s story is heartbreaking, but he left the world a treasure trove of art.

Tragedy found Henry Darger early and often. When he was 4 years old, his mother died. Unable to care for him, Darger’s father placed him in an orphanage.

At 16, Darger ran away and for the next 64 years lived alone as a recluse in a rented room while working as a janitor in Chicago.

Darger died at 81.

His landlord, cleaning out Darger’s rooms, made a startling discovery:  alone in his room, Darger had created hundreds of beautiful, large paintings illustrating an epic fairytale he had written over 60 years.

A brilliant artist, hidden from the world in the guise of a lonely janitor, Henry Darger has become internationally known and is represented in major museums throughout the world.

Leave a Comment



  1. Kirby Kendrick June 27, 2018 at 9:36 am - Reply

    Thanks for the tip on the Outsider Show at the Mengei Museum, San Diego, Alice! Outsider art is being recognized more & more.

  2. Margo Palmer June 27, 2018 at 10:21 am - Reply

    I just love that these people are being recognized. It seems like everyone knows Henry Darger”s sad, odd story, but I’ve never heard of Bill Traylor. And I LOVE his work! Thanks for enlightening me. You always do.

  3. Bob June 27, 2018 at 10:49 am - Reply

    Thanks Kirby. I never knew any of that!

  4. Susan Contreras June 27, 2018 at 11:24 am - Reply

    Such a wonderful blog on artist that were unknown till their passing. Works of true love of creativity by the artist.
    Thank you for sharing!

  5. Leigh June 27, 2018 at 11:46 am - Reply

    I love this blog. You’re amazing.
    Thank you.

  6. Alice June 27, 2018 at 11:48 am - Reply

    Have you seen the current exhibition at the Mingei?
    William Hawkins is another outsider & late bloomer (don’t we just love ’em) – the work is remarkable.

  7. Concetta June 27, 2018 at 11:49 am - Reply

    I LOVED this blog!!!!! Especially the Darger story.

  8. Mary June 27, 2018 at 11:50 am - Reply

    Thank you!

  9. Alessandra June 27, 2018 at 11:51 am - Reply

    I love outsider artists.

  10. Elizabeth June 27, 2018 at 11:52 am - Reply

    Fascinating!!! Thanks for sharing these stories!

  11. Vincent June 27, 2018 at 11:53 am - Reply


    And he didn’t start drawing until he was 82!

  12. Rocky June 27, 2018 at 11:54 am - Reply

    What great artists. Thank you for introducing me to them.

  13. Carmine June 27, 2018 at 11:56 am - Reply

    Love your information and art.

  14. Susanne June 27, 2018 at 11:57 am - Reply

    Thank you for bringing Outsider Art to the attention it deserves. Several years ago, I visited a museum in Baltimore that was devoted to outsider art.

  15. david kremenak June 27, 2018 at 12:58 pm - Reply

    I never heard of art being outside–or inside. As far as I am concerned, it is all “inside out”. A mystery to all of us who lack the vision to “see”. Thank you, Kirby, for this insightful glimpse into 3 outsiders who have managed to wiggle inside.

  16. Deborah Hoffman June 27, 2018 at 7:24 pm - Reply

    Thank you for increasing my knowledge. I am a fan of your work and now Bill Traylor. Thanks for doing this.

  17. Lydia June 27, 2018 at 8:39 pm - Reply

    I let my sad feelings linger for a while in response to what you wrote. Reminds me of how often we people never know what is going on within other people…..even though we also often THINK we know.
    There’s a lesson here, although it is an artful thing to try and reach out to people. I will remember Henry Darger as I walk by total strangers.
    Thanks Kirbita!

  18. Stuart June 27, 2018 at 11:13 pm - Reply

    Hi, Kirby, thanks for the glimpse of this intriguing art!
    I was reminded of a piece that amazed me the first time I saw it at the Museum of American Art, tho these are not such good photos:

  19. Michele June 27, 2018 at 11:14 pm - Reply

    Always so interesting!

  20. Richard June 27, 2018 at 11:15 pm - Reply

    Kirby, This is one of my favorite articles you’ve done. I love outsider
    art and these three examples are so interesting. ps I happened to be eating in ‘Joe’s diner’
    the other night and saw your painting there. Richard

  21. Angelina Perez Ibarguen June 28, 2018 at 7:11 pm - Reply

    Thank you so much for sharing these artists, I am going to look for more images, I trully enjoyed the images and the information

  22. fanny lesser June 29, 2018 at 3:15 pm - Reply

    Thank you Kirby for keeping me on your blog. Love the different educational formats, and I always love the art!

  23. fanny lesser June 29, 2018 at 3:17 pm - Reply

    Love the format and education. Always love the art! Think of you often.

  24. Don Austin June 30, 2018 at 2:18 pm - Reply

    Linda Kay and I love your blog. We want to know when you will be coming to Memphis.
    Catch us up on your life.
    Donnie Austin

  25. Carol Moore June 30, 2018 at 7:55 pm - Reply

    Thank you Kirby – you wake me up!!

  26. linda applewhite July 1, 2018 at 4:07 pm - Reply


    Thanks for including Outsider Art on your blog!! I am an outsider artist and appreciate you recognizing this important category of art. I loved reading the stories of the three artist’s you selected. I admire that as the talented and respected fine artist you are, having graduated from the New York Studio School, sold your work in galleries throughout the US, and won recognition in countless national and regional competitions, you not only recognize this category but even display it on your site. You are not only a great artist, but an artist with humility who can see the beauty of Outsider Art! Love, Louise

  27. Megan July 4, 2018 at 12:10 pm - Reply

    I always love reading your posts! Thanks for sharing!!

  28. Johan P. Jonsson September 27, 2018 at 5:41 am - Reply

    There’s an energy to the outsider artists that’s hard to copy. Dubuffet, I think, sometimes did but generally I go to the source for that energy…

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