Mattie Lou O'Kelley

Celebrated folk artist, Mattie Lou O'Kelley, was born in Maysville, Georgia, on March 30, 1908.  She was the seventh of eight children and grew up on the family's 129 acre farm.  As a girl, she learned to can vegetables, sew quilts and do the various chores expected of children on farms.  Later, she would portray scenes of her childhood as a primitive artist for which she would receive national acclaim.

Mattie O'Kelley worked as a seamstress, school cafeteria cook and textile mill worker until she was forced to retire at age 50.   She had received a ninth grade education before she went out to work.  Four years after retirement she decided to take up painting as a hobby, recalling her childhood in Banks County.  Her style was simple yet full of detail and color.

Five collections of her paintings were published and one of her paintings was used on the cover of the June 1980 issue of "Life" magazine.  Her work in the 1983 collected series, "From the Hills of Georgia: An Autobiography in Paintings" is perhaps her best work.  Among the paintings in this collection as "Cotton Ginning Time" and "Lillie's Pound Supper".

American art experts have rated Mattie Lou O'Kelley as one of the country's major artists and stated: "Her art will be collected, avidly colected, respected and exhibited for as long as there is an America."

Mattie Lou O'Kelley passed away on July 26, 1997 in Atlanta at the age of 89. 

Used with permission, Carl Vinson Institute of Government, The University of Georgia

Copyright 2003 Jacqueline King

Background by Donna Brand