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MSS 0036 Naomi Polk Collection

 Collection
Identifier: MSS 0036

Scope and Contents

The Naomi Polk Collection contains programs, news clippings, photographs, and official documents that chronicle her family history and works as an artist from 1935-2003. Also includes some works of Rosalie Taylor and an oral history of Taylor.

Dates

  • 1935-2003

Creator

Conditions Governing Access

Some photographic originals are closed to public use. User copies are available for viewing. For questions please contact an African American Library Archivist. All other materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Permission to publish or reproduce materials from the Naomi Polk must be obtained from African American Library at the Gregory School or the appropriate copyright holder.

Biographical / Historical

Naomi H. Polk was born in Houston, Texas on July 2, 1892 to Woodson and Josephine Howard. She grew up in Houston’s historic Fourth Ward in a house deeded to her family by former owners when slaves were finally freed in Texas after Emancipation. As a child she attended the Gregory School and for a brief period, Booker T. Washington School.

She left school in the sixth grade to care for the children of her older sisters. She was baptized in Houston’s oldest African American church, Antioch Baptist Church. In the early 1920s she married her first husband, Bill Myers. After his death she remarried once again, this time to Robert Polk. From this marriage were three children, Samuel, Rosalie, and James. Her second husband was shot and killed by a Dallas Police officer in 1935. She was left to raise the children alone. To support her family, she started various enterprises such as selling secret formula insecticides she had concocted to her neighbors, ordering cosmetics in bulk for African American woman from a northern company and selling them in the neighborhood, and selling discarded cans from a dairy which she would repaint and fill with plant clippings in the Montrose district. It was right around this time that her artistic talents took shape. Her works of poetry, essays, and paintings reflects her deep religious faith, experiences, and observations of life.

As a self taught artist she mixed her own paints and used recycled materials or whatever was on hand to create her works. Materials such as discarded window shades, scraps of wood and cardboard, and even ceiling tiles became the "canvases" on which she painted her inner visions. Her philosophy and approach to her works was to make something out of nothing.

In the 1950s her family homestead in the Fourth Ward was purchased by the Phoenix Dairy. She and her family relocated to the Acres Home community, which was the first African American subdivision in Houston. In 1961 her home had been destroyed by a fire along with her poems and works of art. She would spend the rest of her life rewriting and recreating many of the lost works. She would remarry for the third and final time to Reverend James in the mid 1960s at the age of 75. Their marriage lasted several months before ending in divorce.

Toward the end of her life, Polk's sense of isolation and increasing awareness of her mortality began to influence her art, resulting in some of her strongest work. In her Lonesome Road series she expressed her view of herself as a lonely traveler on the long and narrow passage of life. Naomi Polk died on May 1, 1984.

Although she did not live to see the acclaim and recognition that her works would later receive in traveling exhibits and displays, her legacy and influence is still being felt within the artistic community.

Source and Citation: Lynne Adele, "POLK, NAOMI," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/

Extent

3.75 Linear Feet (3)

Arrangement

The collection is arranged by subject and material type.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by: Rosalie M. Taylor, April 2010

Related Materials

Additional materials are held by the Houston Metropolitan Research Center in the following collections:

MSS 270 Naomi H. Polk Collection

Processing Information

Processed by: Vince Lee January, 2012; updated by: Sheena Wilson, December 2018
Title
MSS 0036 Naomi Polk Collection
Subtitle
An inventory of her records at the African American Library at the Gregory School, Houston Public Library
Status
Completed
Author
Vince Lee
Date
Janurary 2012
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Finding Aid Written In English

Repository Details

Part of the Gregory School Repository

Contact:

The African American Library at the Gregory School
1300 Victor Street
Houston, Texas 77019
832-393-1440
HPL.Gregoryschool@houstontx.gov
M Closed | T 10-6 | W 10-6 | Th 12-8 | F 10-5 | Sa 10-5 | Su Closed
Houston Metropolitan Research Center
Houston Public Library
550 McKinney St.
Houston, Texas 77002
M Closed T 10-6 W 10-6 Th 12-8 F 10-5 Sa 10-5 Su Closed
TXR.Reference@houstontx.gov
832-393-1662