Georgia Historical Society Dedicates New Historical Marker About the Artwork and Impact of Folk Artist Nellie Mae Rowe

(l-r) Breana James, Cheryl Mashack, and Cathi Bates Perry unveil the historical marker. Courtesy of Lilly Heidari.

Vinings, GA, June 3, 2024—On Saturday, June 1, 2024, the Georgia Historical Society (GHS) unveiled a new historical marker, “Nellie Mae Rowe and her Playhouse," in partnership with Vinings Village Homeowners Association and The Judith Alexander Foundation. The historical marker details the work and impact of African-American folk artist Nellie Mae Rowe, including her Vinings home of 45 years that she transformed artistically into her “Playhouse.”

“The Georgia Historical Society is pleased to work with the Vinings Village Homeowners Association and The Judith Alexander Foundation to erect this new historical marker about Nellie Mae Rowe,” said Elyse Butler, GHS Manager of Programs and Special Projects. “This historical marker reminds us of the impact of Rowe’s artwork in the folk-art community, even though Rowe’s home, which served as her canvas, is no longer standing.”

Rowe, a self-taught African-American folk artist, moved from Fayette County to Vinings in 1930. Seven years later, Rowe and her husband, Henry Rowe, built a home on Paces Ferry Road in Vinings. During the last two decades of her life, Rowe—widowed and retired—devoted herself to artmaking, creating the bulk of her artwork, including her Playhouse. She adorned the home and yard with her colorful illustrations, collages, chewing-gum sculptures, hand-crafted dolls, installations, and more. The Playhouse attracted attention. Rowe’s guestbook indicates that from May 1973 to March 1975 alone, she welcomed more than 800 visitors to tour her Playhouse. Rowe’s work received recognition, being exhibited nationwide. She also experienced harassment and vandalization because of racial prejudice and lack of understanding of her art. Rowe continued to live in her Playhouse until her death in 1982. Shortly afterwards, it was demolished, and the property became a commercial lot during a period of rapid urban growth in Vinings.

"Nelle Mae Rowe’s Playhouse was a space to create and find refuge and strength,” said Cheryl Mashack and Cathi Bates Perry, great-grandnieces of Nellie Mae Rowe and The Judith Alexander Foundation board members. “It was a place to dream and believe you could accomplish all things with God's Amen, a place to love and be loved unconditionally."

The marker dedication took place in front of Hotel Indigo, the property where the Playhouse once stood. Speakers included Breana James, Historical Marker and Program Coordinator, Georgia Historical Society; Melissa Johnson, President, Vinings Village Homeowners Association; Woodie Wisebram, Board member, Vinings Village Homeowners Association; Minister Ray Tiyamiyu; Judith Alexander Augustine, Director, The Judith Alexander Foundation; Mario Petrirena, Board member, The Judith Alexander Foundation; Cathi Bates Perry, great-grandniece of Nellie Mae Rowe and President, The Judith Alexander Foundation; and Cheryl Mashack, great-grandniece of Nellie Mae Rowe and Board member, The Judith Alexander Foundation.

The marker text reads:

Nellie Mae Rowe and her Playhouse

Nellie Mae Rowe (1900-1982), a self-taught African-American artist, lived near this site for 45 years. Rowe began creating art as a child. After retiring in the 1960s, she devoted herself to artmaking, associating it with childlike play. Using assemblage and repurposing techniques, she explored politics, race, her faith, and her experience as a woman. Rowe adorned her yard and home—her “Playhouse”—with colorful drawings, installations, and sculptures. During the 1970s, many locals and visitors toured Rowe’s Playhouse. Rowe experienced harassment and vandalization due to racial prejudice and lack of understanding of her art. Toward the end of her life Rowe’s work received national attention. Shortly after her death her Playhouse was demolished. Rowe’s art has since been exhibited worldwide and included in collections such as Atlanta’s High Museum of Art and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Erected by the Georgia Historical Society, Vinings Village Homeowners Association, and The Judith Alexander Foundation

For more information about the Nellie Mae Rowe and her Playhouse historical marker dedication or the Georgia Historical Society marker program, please contact Elyse Butler, Manager of Programs and Special Projects, at 912.651.2125, ext. 119, or by email at


The Georgia Historical Society (GHS) is the premier independent statewide institution responsible for collecting, examining, and teaching Georgia history. GHS houses the oldest and most distinguished collection of materials related exclusively to Georgia history in the nation.
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The Georgia Historical Marker Program is an important part of the Georgia Historical Society’s (GHS) statewide educational mission. Through a public-private partnership with the State of Georgia, GHS is responsible for erecting new historical markers and maintaining more than 2,000 markers installed by the State prior to the program’s privatization in 1998. Online mapping tools allow users to explore themed marker trails and design custom driving routes. Visit for more ways to use Georgia’s historical markers and experience history where it happened.