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College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

Museum Exhibition of Southern Art

UM Museum presents Our Faith Affirmed: Works from the Gordon W. Bailey Collection


Purvis Young, Angels Playing Music (detail), Gordon W. Bailey Collection

Purvis Young, Angels Playing Music (detail), Gordon W. Bailey Collection

The University of Mississippi Museum exhibition “Our Faith Affirmed – Works from the Gordon W. Bailey Collection” (Sept. 10, 2014-Aug. 8, 2015), celebrated, in the museum’s 75th anniversary year, a major gift by Gordon W. Bailey of inspired artworks created by African-American self-taught artists from the South.

This exhibit featured works by 27 artists, all born between 1900 and 1959. Many of the artists are widely known and several, most notably, Thornton Dial Sr., Roy Ferdinand, Bessie Harvey, Lonnie Holley, Charlie Lucas, Jimmy Lee Sudduth, and Purvis Young, are internationally exhibited.

“As a leading scholar, collector and curator, Mr. Bailey is uniquely positioned to make an impact in the life of this university,” said Robert Saarnio, museum director. “His generosity of spirit and vision are extraordinary and its meaningfulness to our museum and to the communities we serve, both academic and public, will surely be felt for generations to come. His astute assessment that an academic campus-based museum with educational programs for schoolchildren, the general public and university students stands uniquely positioned to leverage its collections for broad educational impact will prove prescient.”

Bailey states: “I considered the history of the region and the nature of the race-based incidents that still, on occasion, shake the university and became convinced that this was the right place to make this commitment. I believe that the arts are the cultural mortar that connects diverse communities. There are many good people here – of all races and socio-economic levels – pulling, or in some cases pushing, in the same direction. The University Museum is a terrific place to pay tribute to African-American, Southern self-taught artists who persevered and, against the odds, created works of genius.”

“Our Faith Affirmed – Works from the Gordon W. Bailey Collection,” curated by Gordon W. Bailey and David Houston, underscores the significance of Southern vernacular artists whose influence extend far beyond the realm of aesthetics. Confident, singular and insistent, the artworks created by the African-Americans honored in this exhibition exude an authority of experience and directness of expression that bear witness to the considerable weight of Southern history, the saga of American politics and, most clearly, to their faith and clarity of vision.

David Houston comments: “With this gift, my friend and co-curator, Gordon W. Bailey, a respected scholar and collector, has considerably broadened the scope of the museum’s impressive collections. As he intuited, the university’s geographic location sets the framework for the further exploration of Southern self-taught artists whose works are emblematic of the region’s culture. Some of the artists have daunting personal histories and were dually stressed by the adversities of poverty and oppression while dealing with the daily tribulations of living in a legally segregated society. All, though unique individuals with decidedly different iconographies and points of view, share context. Whatever their motivation – inner necessity, visionary impulse, political activism, faith in God, nature or nurture – it is clear that they did not need the mechanisms of the art world to either inspire their works or validate the importance of their efforts. For them, the raging authenticity and soulful expressiveness that is chiefly responsible for their newfound popular and critical acceptance is solid evidence that they never bowed to limitations or expectations. In fact, they seldom altered their content of purpose, whether cut off from the larger culture by geography or by law.”

Leroy Almon, Hawkins Bolden, Richard Burnside, Charles Butler, Archie Byron, Arthur Dial, Thornton Dial Jr., Thornton Dial Sr., Roy Ferdinand, Charles Gillam, Ralph Griffin, Bessie Harvey, Lonnie Holley, Robert Howell, Edwin Jeffery Jr., Joe Light, Charlie Lucas, Sulton Rogers, O.L. Samuels, Welmon Sharlhorne, Henry Speller, Jimmy Lee Sudduth, James “Son” Thomas, Felix “Harry” Virgous, Willie White, Luster Willis and Purvis Young.

The exhibition is complemented by an illustrated catalog, edited by Gordon W. Bailey, featuring insightful essays by David Houston, director of the Bo Bartlett Center at Columbus State University’s College of the Arts in Columbus, Georgia; W. Ralph Eubanks, editor of the venerable Virginia Quarterly Review and a UM alumnus; and Jason “PyInfamous” Thompson, UM alumnus and Sally McDonnell-Barksdale Honors College Scholar, an acclaimed hip-hop emcee and songwriter. The essays contribute substantially to understanding the challenges faced by African-American self-taught artists in the South.

The University Museum, at the corner of University Avenue and Fifth Street, is open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays. Admission is free. For more information, visit or call 662-915-7073.