Judith Alexander Foundation Supports Artists Work and Health

Organization carries on work of late art patron

During her long life, Judith Alexander became an icon and a patron for the art community in Atlanta and beyond. Now the foundation that bears her name is carrying forward her mission.

Georgia’s artists are the beneficiaries of the Judith Alexander Foundation. Established in memory of one of Atlanta’s premier patrons of the arts, the Foundation is dedicated to supporting both artists’ work and their health as well.

With many members of the artistic community self-employed, relatively few have access to health insurance. Among the Foundation’s current programs is an effort to assist artists in obtaining low cost or free healthcare. The Foundation provides contacts with more than 40 healthcare clinics and providers both in the Atlanta area and beyond. This list can be accessed here on this website.

No other person made as large an impact on the Atlanta art community as the late Judith Alexander. She founded one of Atlanta’s first contemporary art galleries and introduced locals to abstract expressionism. She began the city’s first folk art gallery in 1978 and brought obscure, but highly talented Georgia artists to national acclaim.

“Her whole life was dedicated to art and to artists – particularly from Georgia,” said Barbara Archer, owner of the Barbara Archer Gallery and a long time associate of Judith. “They were closest to her heart and she literally spent every breathing moment involved in art in one way or another.”

The Judith Alexander Gallery became a gathering spot and focal point for Atlanta artists, according to Judith Anderson, a New York City attorney and long time friend. Artists would frequently drop by to show their work.

“She would encourage and talk with them about their work and about their personal lives and what was going on in them,” said Anderson. “She saw the whole artist not just their work.”

She supported struggling local artists through buying their art, putting on shows of their work and introducing them to museum curators and others who could help their careers.

“She was not only interested in the art, she was interested in the artist,” said Helen Alexander, chair of the Foundation. “She gave them money and if they were ill and needed an operation or other treatment she would pay for it. When she died, everybody thought she was their own particular saint and we are trying to carry on her work in supporting art and the artists.”

Judith first saw the work of self-taught artist Nellie Mae Rowe at an Atlanta History Center exhibition called “Missing Pieces.” She became a patron of her work and staged exhibitions of primitive folk art at the Alexander Gallery long before the Corcoran Gallery’s landmark exhibition “Black Folk Art in America, 1930-1980” ignited interest in the form.

“She gave (Rowe) art materials and took her work to museums and galleries and really got her started,” said Helen Alexander. “She also ensured that Nellie Mae and her family received all proceeds from the sale of her work.

Thanks in large part to Judith’s tireless promotion, Rowe’s work now commands prices ranging beyond $10,000 and has been displayed at the prestigious Folk Art Museum of New York.

A benefactor of the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Judith gave some 160 works of art to its collection. Most recently, she contributed 130 pieces of Rowe’s work. The gift, which included archival materials, made the High the definitive collection of Rowe’s work.

The Foundation is also working to ensure that the legacy of Nellie Mae Rowe is preserved through the High collection.

Other projects include building relationships with other organizations to help artists find venues for displaying work in addition to identifying sources of  financial support.

Judith donated art by many other artists – mostly Georgian – to a variety of museums including New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art and the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans.

“She was not financially motivated,” said Archer. “She had the means to buy art and to help other people more than anyone I know.”

Judith was a student of art and brought a great love and understanding of contemporary art forms to her patronage of developing artists. She arranged local exhibitions for abstract expressionists such as Franz Kline and sold their work through her gallery at a time when the local community didn’t understand or appreciate it. More than almost anyone else in the city she sought to educate art lovers about the wide variety of art being created, according to Archer.

“She brought so much knowledge and such a depth of understanding about art,” said Archer. “At the same time, she was childlike in the way she looked at everything and every experience as if she had never experienced it before.”

A native of Atlanta, Judith Alexander died at her New York home in December 2004. Her late brother, Henry Alexander, organized the Foundation and arranged for her bequest to be used in support of its work.

Members of the Foundation board include Helen Alexander, chair, Judith Anderson, Barbara Archer, Judith Alexander Augustine, Fred DuBose, Marianne Lambert and Mario Petrirena.

Von Diaz, gallery assistant at the Barbara Archer Gallery, provided research and compilation of the Foundation’s guide to healthcare for artists.