Judith Alexander Foundation Carries on Work of Late Art Patron - Supports Georgia Artists and the Legacy of Nellie Mae Rowe


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 artists' lives and work.

 

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 the late Helen

Alexander, original chair of the Foundation. “She helped pay for various needs that would spring

up in the lives of these people she so admired. When she died, everybody thought she had

been their own particular saint. Now 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. The

Smithsonian American Art Museum has acquired some of her work as well.

 

A benefactor of the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Judith gave some 160 works of art to its

collection. Before her death, 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.

 

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.