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date: 15 August 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This article examines how two Southern vernacular artists — one working in the late 19th century and the other at the end of the 20th — responded to the Bible, what they took from it, and how they made sense of what they learned. Within the century that separates Harriet Powers, the former slave, and the Revd Howard Finster (c. 1915–2001), space-age illustrator and folk-art icon, religious imagery dominates the creations of contemporary folk artists in the South. Moreover, untold numbers of both black and white artists found inspiration in the Bible. Making art intended for a variety of purposes — devotional, didactic, proselytic, and also as social commentary — these untutored artists searched the Bible to find meaning for themselves. Looking at the art of Harriet Powers, a black woman and former slave, living a century ago, and the creations of a feisty Baptist preacher who died in the 21st century, underscores not only the many differences they share but also a startling number of similarities.

Keywords: Harriet Powers, Howard Finster, Southern folk art, religious imagery

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