May 13, 2014–January 8, 2017

Free Thought and Free Speech

Jesse Howard (1885-1983) Reformers

Fulton, Missouri


Paint on wood

45 1/4 x 29 1/4"

Collection American Folk Art Museum, New York

Gift of Chuck and Jan Rosenak, 1980.3.10

Photo by Gavin Ashworth

Jesse Howard (1885-1983)

Free Thought and Free Speech

Jesse Howard filled up his house, his land, and the surrounding fence with hand-lettered painted panels. Words became his artistic medium—black lettering patterned with red highlights and punctuated with incriminating pointing fingers. Signs of protest and free speech relevant to his own life experiences and personal torments, they stand as accusations to his vandals, commentaries on politicians, and lessons from various biblical verses. Similar in terms of communication strategy and physical structuring to the environments of Sam Doyle and Mary T. Smith, this self-referential site, private in content, intervened nevertheless in the public sphere, as if the creator was speaking out loud. Opinionated and vocal, Howard was engaging passersby with his radical ideas and views.

Valérie Rousseau, “Free Thought and Free Speech,” exhibition label for Self-Taught Genius: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum. Stacy C. Hollander and Valérie Rousseau, curators. New York: American Folk Art Museum, 2014.