Nowalk opens Golla exhibition in Pittsburgh

Jan Garrison

Show runs through May 6


April 14, 2022

The PHG Museums of Pittsburgh are currently hosting an exhibition, “The Magical World of Roman Golla,” in the Irma Freeman Center for Imagination. The exhibit is from the personal collection of Culver Academies art instructor Bob Nowalk.

The exhibition opened April 1 and Nowalk spoke at a reception the next day. The exhibition is expected to run through May 6. Gallery hours are Saturday from 2-5 p.m. and by appointment. The show is a visual celebration of the paintings and drawings of Golla, a Polish immigrant whose work has been seen as an Outsider Artist with a story of innate creativity and visionary passion, loss, and rediscovery.

Formerly from Pittsburgh, Nowalk is the curator of Culver’s Art Collection and Galleries. Culver Academies works to connect the educational process of learning with real artwork. It strives to raise the awareness and importance of artists outside of the institutionalized structures of art, most often deemed as “Outsider”, “Naïve” or “Self-Taught.”


One of Roman Golla's paintings

The Golla exhibition reveals the complex life of the artist and the influences which led to his career. Roman Golla was born in the mountains of southern Poland in 1917. He would later be captured in a Nazi round up during World War II. After liberation from a forced labor camp in occupied France in 1945, Golla eventually found passage to a Polish community in Chicago in 1951, where the residents helped find him employment and a place to live.

An avid chess-player, Golla merited positions in the U.S. Open Chess Tournament in 1953, 1961, 1963 and 1968. It was in 1964, while living contentedly and alone in an apartment in the Avondale neighborhood of Chicago, Golla decided to become an artist. Initially working with wire, wood, and paint, he quickly gravitated toward oil on canvas.

In his art, Golla recalled memories, myths and imagings with a folkloric simplicity and sense of wonder. In 1978, he held a one-person exhibition at Humanitas Gallery, which earned him some renown when Chicago Sun-Times art critic Harold Hayden gave his exhibit a positive review. After Golla’s death in December of 2001, and without a direct heir, the City of Chicago saw to his burial and removed the contents of his apartment.


Nowalk first showed the Roman Golla collection at the Crisp Visual Arts Center in 2018.


Eventually his personal effects went to a distant relative who then sold the paintings to a prospective gallery owner. After placing the paintings in storage, some 12 years later, with the gallery still unrealized, the buyer posted Golla’s paintings on Craigslist. Featuring a painting of a gypsy violinist, the lot caught Nowalk's eye. He answered the ad and relaunched the fantastical work of Roman Golla.

The first exhibition was conducted at the Crisp Center in April 2018, followed by a show at Ancilla College. The Pittsburgh exhibition was originally to open two years ago but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed it until this spring.

For more on Golla, read Nowalk’s post shortly before the Culver exhibition.

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