3 Famous Outsider Artists

Outsider Art:
Naive…visionary…never been in an art school or gallery…disturbing images…

Wash Day, 1950
Clementine Hunter
Oil on pasteboard.

Clementine Hunter was born in 1886, twenty years after the Civil War, when segregation and oppression of  blacks was still rampant.  Her child-like paintings of picking cotton, picking pecans, washing clothes, baptisms and funerals are gentle images of this oppression.

What a story!

Much of Clementine Hunter’s life was spent working on a plantation in Louisiana and she only attended school for ten days, never learning to read or write.

While she was working as a house servant, an artist visiting the plantation left some discarded brushes and tubes of paint. She became intrigued and used the brushes to “mark a picture” on a window shade.

Clementine Hunter’s career as an artist began! Today she is often referred to as the black Grandma Moses.

When she was 100 years old, Northwestern State University of Louisiana granted her an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree.

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.

Jesus is my Airplane, 1970
Sister Gertrude Morgan

Jesus Christ The Lamb of God and His Little Bride
Sister Gertrude Morgan, 1960
Crayon and ballpoint pen on paper.

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.

Fantastical video of Henry Darger’s images and fairytale.
Click here if you are unable to view the video.

Watch Sister Gertrude Morgan in New Orleans.
Click here if you are unable to view the video.

Leave a Comment



  1. Margo September 30, 2014 at 10:35 am - Reply

    This was delightful to see. I didn’t know about Sister Gertrude Morgan. I’d like to know her tho. And I can never get enough of Henry Darger. Wish he knew what an unbelievable impact he made with his beautiful, strange art. So much talent. So sad.

  2. Kathryn Anderson September 30, 2014 at 10:48 am - Reply

    Thank you! Beautiful.

  3. Diane Rudy September 30, 2014 at 10:54 am - Reply

    Dearest Kirby,
    Thank you, Thank you, for bringing us such stimulating stories and art that would remain hidden to us if not for you. How great it is, through writing, pictures and video, you bring to us such jewels or knowledge and awareness of images and the stories behind them.
    You are the jewel,
    With Love,

  4. Cree September 30, 2014 at 7:30 pm - Reply

    I am fascinated with the art created by these “outsider” artists. Thank you so much for sharing!!!
    Ned and I have a great friend in Roanoke, VA, who introduced us to folk art, which has also included some “outsider” artists. We’ve just visited him and took some photos of his favorite pieces. We will share after we get back from the east coast.
    Thanks again, Cree

  5. david kremenak October 1, 2014 at 1:33 pm - Reply

    Kirby, Thank you for introducing me to these three most unusual artists. I’m quite sure Sister Gertrude Morgan would be dee-lighted to know someone believed in her plane ride enough to shell out 20+ Ks for her boisterous painting depicting that ride. All is well. Tu amigo, d

  6. kathryn golden October 1, 2014 at 7:41 pm - Reply

    Dear Kirby,
    What a gift you bring all of us who are lucky enough to be on your blog list! Thank you dear friend! Kathryn

  7. Vic DePratti October 2, 2014 at 9:38 pm - Reply

    Warm, inspiring, enriching to the human spirit. A trilogy of what is and perhaps even why is. Artistic expression seems to pop up independent of circumstance. And, it seems that the more uncommon the setting, the more touching it may be.
    As for me, spent more time reading and reading this particular Kirby piece than most others.

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