Alumnus Donates 'Outsider' Art

The Harvard Art Museums announced a gift of 38 pieces of artwork on Monday, bestowed by David Barrett ’71 and wife Didi to supplement the University’s existing contemporary American art collection.

The sculpture, drawings, and paintings represent the work of 24 self-taught or “outsider” artists—individuals who had little to no professional training or experienced physical or psychological isolation from society—marking the first time this genre has been included in the University’s museum collection.

The gift includes pieces by notable artists such as Joseph Yoakum, Nellie Mae Rowe, and Bill Traylor. In addition to primarily contemporary works, the collection also includes three rare “ledger book drawings” crafted by members of the Plain Indian tribes in the nineteenth century.

“The objects in the Barrett collection are inspirational and come at a pivotal time when our faculty and students have been asking for works of this genre,” said Theodore E. Stebbins Jr., consultative curator of American art at the Harvard Art Museum, in a press release.

David, who described art and art collection as interests that he shares with his wife, emphasized the typically understated importance of self-taught and “outsider” art.


“We think that [the genre] is very interesting,” he said. “It will hopefully be appealing to young artists and scholars, who will now have the opportunity to study this art in Harvard’s collection.”

According to Director of the Harvard Art Museums Thomas W. Lentz, the gift represents an unprecedented opportunity to supplement the traditional fixtures of the University’s collection—including Asian and Mediterranean art, European and American art, and modern and contemporary art.

“These ‘outsider’ works take our holdings of American contemporary art in an exciting new direction, providing a unique opportunity for study and appreciation by students, scholars, and visitors,” Lentz said in a press release.

—Staff writer Barbara B. DePena can be reached at