Born 1890, Ashgrove, Missouri | Died 1972, Chicago, Illinois
Joseph Yoakum, according to official records, was born in 1890 in Ash Grove, Missouri, though by his own account, he was born in 1888 on a Navajo reservation near Window Rock, Arizona. Yoakum was a storyteller who claimed to have traveled the world, crisscrossing North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia as a circus advance man, soldier, train porter, hobo, stevedore, and stowaway. He is said to have started drawing in 1962, when he was in his 70s, and thereafter he made one or two drawings a day until his death on Christmas morning, 1972.
Yoakum’s first show in the contemporary art world was in 1968 at Edward Sherbeyn Gallery in Chicago. In 1969, the group of artists known as the Chicago Imagists included him in their first museum show, Don Baum Sez “Chicago Needs More Famous Artists,” at the Museum of Contemporary Art (Chicago). Over the next three years, Yoakum was given several solo museum exhibitions, including at the Museum of Modern Art (New York, 1971) and the Whitney Museum of American Art (New York, 1972). Today his work is usually displayed in the context of folk and outsider art, but he remains an influential figure among a devoted cadre of artists and collectors.