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Umberger, Leslie

Curator of Folk and Self-Taught Art

the work of self-taught, vernacular, folk, and autonomous artists and art environment builders


Geographic Focus

Background And Education

Education And Training

Professional Biography

  • Leslie Umberger is an art historian who has specialized in folk, self-taught, and vernacular art since the late 1990s. She is Curator of Folk and Self-Taught Art at the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) in Washington, D.C. Recent projects include the retrospective exhibition Between Worlds: The Art of Bill Traylor (2018-1019), which was accompanied by a major monograph of the same title co-published by SAAM and Princeton University Press (2018), and the reinstallation of the galleries for folk and self-taught art at SAAM in 2016. Other notable publications include: Something to Take My Place: The Art of Lonnie Holley (2015); Untitled: The Art of James Castle (2014), and Sublime Spaces & Visionary Worlds: Built Environments of Vernacular Artists (2007).

Awards And Honors


Selected Publications

  • Article

  • Blog Posting

  • Book

    • Umberger, Leslie. 2022. We are Made of Stories: Self-Taught Artists in the Robson Family Collection [Exhibition catalog] Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Pres. 2022
    • Umberger, Leslie. 2018. Between Worlds: The Art of Bill Traylor [Exhibition catalog] Washington, DC: Smithsonian American Art Museum in association with Princeton University Press. 2018
    • Bell, Nicholas R. and Umberger, Leslie. 2014. Untitled: The Art of James Castle. Washington: Smithsonian American Art Museum, in association with D. Giles Limited, London. 2014
    • Umberger, Leslie. 2009. American Story [Exhibition catalog] Sheboygan, Wisconsin: John Michael Kohler Arts Center. 2009
    • Umberger, Leslie. 2008. Messages & Magic: 100 Years of Collage and Assemblage in American Art [Exhibition catalog] Sheboygan, Wisconsin: John Michael Kohler Arts Center. 2008
    • Doss, Erika and Umberger, Leslie. 2007. Sublime Spaces & Visionary Worlds: Built Environments of Vernacular Artists. New York; Sheboygan, Wisconsin: Princeton Architectural Press;John Michael Kohler Arts Center. 2007
  • Chapter

    • Umberger, Leslie. 2022. "The Transformative Vision of James Hampton." In 8th Iranian Artbrut Annual Exhibition. 2022
    • Umberger, Leslie. 2021. "African Jungle Picture: If the Ladies Had Knew the Snakes Wouldn't Bite Them They Wouldn't Bit Them They Wouldn't Have Hirt the Snakes; If the Snakes Had Knew the Ladies Wouldn't Have Hurt Them, They Wouldn't Have Bit the Ladies, 1989." In Thornton Dial: The Earliest Years, 1987-1989. Jones, Phillip March, editor. Los Angeles, California: Parker Gallery. 2021
    • Umberger, Leslie. 2017. "Emery Blagdon." In The Hidden Art: 20th & 21st Century Self-Taught Artists from the Audrey B. Heckler Collection. Rousseau, Valerie, editor. 128–131. New York: Skira Rizzoi / American Folk Art Museum. 2017
    • Umberger, Leslie. 2017. "Lest We Forget." In Ralph Fasanella: images of optimism. Fasanella, Marc, editor. 6–29. Portland, Oregon: Pomegranate. 2017
    • Umberger, Leslie. 2017. "Truth Inside the Myth: The Obscure History of Tramp Art in America." In No Idle Hands: The Myths & Meanings of Tramp Art. Addison, Laura, Umberger, Leslie, and Zafran, Eric, editors. 29–43. Santa Fe, New Mexico: Museum of New Mexico Press. 2017
    • Umberger, Leslie. 2016. "Charlie Willeto." In As Essential as Dreams: Self-Taught Art from the Collection of Stephanie and John Smither. White, Michelle, editor. 86–92. Houston: The Menil Collection New Haven. 2016
    • Umberger, Leslie. 2016. "Grandma Moses." In Pen to Paper: Artist's Handwritten Letters from the Smithsonian's Archives of American Art. Savig, Mary, editor. 94–95. New York: Princeton Architectural Press. 2016
    • Umberger, Leslie. 2015. "Lonnie Holley: In Memory of the Blood." In Something to Take My Place: The Art of Lonnie Holley. Sloan, Mark, editor. 11–33. Charleston, South Carolina: Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, College of Charleston. 2015
    • Umberger, Leslie. 2014. "Journey Inward." In Bernard Langlais at the Colby College Museum of Art. Blunt, Hannah, editor. 121–132. Milan: Edzioni Charta. 2014
    • Umberger, Leslie. 2014. "Late works, 1966-1977 -- Materials and techniques: two conservators' reflection." In Bernard Langlais at the Colby College Museum of Art. Blunt, Hannah, Tuite, Diane, and Katz, Vincent, editors. Milan, Italy: Edizioni Charta. 2014
    • Umberger, Leslie. 2013. "Emery Blagdon." In The Alternate Guide to the Universe. Rugoff, Ralph, editor. 115. London, England: Hayward Publishing. 2013
    • Umberger, Leslie. 2013. "Kantha: The Birth and Rebirth of a Native Art." In Through the Eye of a Needle to Self Help Enterprises (S.H.E.). Basu, Gouri, editor. 2. Kolkata, India: Eastern Zonal Culture Centre. 2013
    • Umberger, Leslie. 2013. "Ray Yoshida: Omnivorous." In Ray Yoshida's Museum of Extraordinary Values. Patterson, Karen, editor. 8–11. Sheboygan, Wisconsin: John Michael Kohler Arts Center. 2013
    • Umberger, Leslie. 2012. "Timothy Wehrle: I Don't Understand You and I Never Will." In The Drawing Season. Chaloupka, Amy, Ferris, Alison, and Umberger, Leslie, editors. 18–21. Sheboygan, Wisconsin: John Michael Kohler Arts Center. 2012
    • Umberger, Leslie. 2010. "Forward." In Norman Pettingill: Backwoods Humorist. 1. San Francisco, California: Fantagraphics Books. 2010
    • Umberger, Leslie. 2009. "Forward." In Sonabai: Another Way of Seeing. Huyler, Stephen P., editor. 1. San Diego, California: Mapin Publishing. 2009
    • Umberger, Leslie. 2008. "David Butler, Kenny Hill, Roadside Art." In Encyclopedia of Southern Culture. Wilson, Charles Reagan, editor. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press. 2008
    • Umberger, Leslie. 2008. "Emery Blagdon, Eugene Von Bruenchenhein, Vernacular Art, Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art." In Encyclopedia of Outsider Art. 2008
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