Bessie Harvey

“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.

More Information

  • Wicks, Stephen, “Bessie Harvey,” Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, 2010.
  • Cogswell, Robert, “Two Tennessee Visionaries: Bessie Harvey and Homer Green,” Folk Art Messenger 4, #4 (Summer 1991): 1, 3-4.
  • ——-, “Sculptor Bessie Harvey Dies at 64,” Folk Art Messenger 8, #1 (Fall 1994): 9.
  • Gaver, Eleanor E., “Inside the Outsiders,” Art & Antiques 7, #6 (Summer 1990): 72-86, 159, 161, 163.
  • Lowe, Warren, Baking in the Sun: Visionary Images from the South (Lafayette, LA: University of Southwest Louisiana, 1987).
  • Monin, Beth, “Bessie Harvey’s Folk Arts ‘A Gift from God,’” Nashville Banner (Nov 14, 1989): D-1, 6.
  • Morris, Shari Cavin, “Bessie Harvey: The Spirit in the Wood,” The Clarion 12, #2/3 (1987): 44-49.
  • Moses, Kathy, Outsider Art of the South (Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing, 1999), pp. 88-94.
  • Perry, Paul Wardell, “Bessie Harvey’s Sculpture: The Beast in the Tree Trunk,” The New Crisis: The Magazine of Opportunities and Ideas 107, #4 (Jul/Aug 2000): 76-78.
  • Wardlaw, Alvia, Black Art, Ancestral Legacy: The African Impulse in African American Art (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art, 1989).
  • Weld, Allison, Dream Singers, Story-Tellers: An African American Presence (Newark: New Jersey State Museum, 1992), pp. 126, 170, 206-7.
  • Wicks, Stephen C., Awakening the Spirits: Art by Bessie Harvey (Knoxville: Knoxville Museum of Art, 1997).