“outsider” artist, Alcoa
Governor’s Award in the Arts (1994)
Bessie Harvey (1929-1994) was Tennessee’s most notable self-taught “outsider” artist. Originally from Georgia, she lived most of her life in Alcoa. She came to make art late in life as a spiritual calling and a response to hardships, first fashioning sculptural creatures out of found wood, and eventually working in drawing, painting, and clay as well. By the mid-1980s she’d been “discovered” by collectors and big-city dealers, and for several years she was among the state’s most widely-exhibited artists. She inferred complex meanings in most of her pieces, some of which depicted biblical characters and themes from African American history and everyday life. Harvey was posthumously honored by a retrospective exhibit at the Knoxville Museum of Art in 1997.