created a large body of vivid, stylized portraits, which she began to make when she was serving a prison sentence for "criminally negligent homicide" in the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in New York. She was incarcerated there from the late 1960s to 1972. Born in Sumter, South Carolina, Walker was orphaned by the age of twelve or thirteen and raised by a cousin. She had married and had four children by the time she was sixteen. In the 1930s Walker joined the African American migration north, settling in Philadelphia, and then moved to New York State in 1949, where she found work in a Fort Byron apple-processing plant.
Little is known of Walker's life for the next twenty years or so, or whether she was making drawings during this period. But in 1971, seventy-nine of her drawings were found by a local schoolteacher, Elizabeth Bailey. Impressed with their originality, meticulous attention to detail, and humor, Bailey purchased the drawings and showed them to art gallery owner Pat Parsons, who exhibited Walker's work for eight years. But from 1980, Parsons lost track of the artist. About a decade later, she discovered that Walker was living in a psychiatric hospital in Willard, New York. Parsons continued to represent the artist, buying about 200 of her works executed at Willard, until Walker's death there in 1990.
Walker's style changed over the years. Her first drawings were made on the backs of mimeographed prison newsletters. From 1972, Parsons supplied her with art materials: sketchpads, graphite, colored pencils, crayons, and felt-tipped markers. Her early portraits were executed as line drawings on plain backgrounds, with patterned areas added to delineate the features of her subjects. Many of her drawings are self-portraits, but she also drew generalized portraits of people. Most of her subjects are presented frontally or in profile close to the imaginary space of the picture plane, the window between the viewer and the picture's actual surface. Her frontal portraits exhibit an intense gaze, with the eyes staring directly at the viewer. Many of her self-portraits are reminiscent of those produced by the folk artist Mose Tolliver. Walker paid special attention to hairstyles (especially densely patterned "Afros" and permanent waves), hats, and clothing in her portrayals of women, and focused on the mustaches and the beards of her male subjects.
In time, the patterns in the form of parallel, converging, crossing, diagonal, and undulating lines, alternated with geometric forms such as dots, triangles, circles, and squares became more varied and dense within the linear figures she drew. In her later works, the patterns were less controlled, often extending beyond the outlined borders of the figures.
Walker's confident portraits affirm her identity as a woman, an African American, and an artist. Her oeuvre provided her with an expressive outlet during a time when she experienced loneliness and stress while leading a restrictive life in prison.
See also Painting, American Folk; Prison Art; Mose Tolliver.
portrait artist, landscapist, and lithographer, worked in his native Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, and subsequently in California during the early nineteenth century. Born in 1804, the artist was the son of Judge Henry Walton (1768-1844), the region's chief land owner and the developer of Saratoga Springs as a resort for therapeutic cures. Henry H. Walton's introduction to art has not been determined, however, he may have received some training in architectural draftsmanship. During the 1820s and 1830s, he worked as a lithographer, executing highly detailed and skillfully drawn town views of central New York for lithography firms such as Rawdon Clark & Co. of Albany and Pendleton's of Boston and New York. Many of these views-including the United States Hotel, Saratoga Springs, and Mrs. Ricord's Seminary at Geneva, Ontario County, New York-appeared as illustrations to guide books for the region and as supplementary material for other publications of the period.
From 1836 to 1851, Walton lived in the Finger Lakes. He resided primarily in Ithaca, but he also worked in Elmira, Big Flats, Addison, and Painted Post. In addition to making town views as engravings, and in watercolor and oil, he also executed beautiful, diminutive portraits in watercolor on paper, miniatures on ivory, and full size likenesses on canvas. A
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Publication information: Book title: Encyclopedia of American Folk Art. Contributors: Gerard C.Wertkin - Editor, Lee Kogan - AssociateEditor. Publisher: Routledge. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 2004. Page number: 540.
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