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Entire worlds come alive under the artist’s hand, revealing myriad characters, both real and imagined. Artworks from artists as diverse as Ammi Phillips, Joseph P. Davis, Sam Doyle, and Mary Paulina Corbett conjure a wide range of personalities carefully depicted, dressed, named, and contextualized in their daily lives. These serial works incorporate elements of consistency across time and place. In early American portraiture, commonalities of composition and self-fashioning drew community members together based on shared taste, even as each work served to represent an individual. Among later self-taught artists, an investment in imaginary characters speaks to the role of found families in the lives of these artists. Henry Darger, James Edward Deeds, and Morton Bartlett represent great archetypes of this approach, blurring lines between fiction and biographical fact.

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