(1854 - 1947)
Bill Traylor was active/lived in Alabama. Bill Traylor is known for folk art painting.
Born a slave on the plantation of George Traylor near Benton,
Alabama, Bill Traylor became known as a folk artist who did stark and
simple drawings with colored pencils in a flat, child-like style.
His images are of plantation and street life, domestic animals and
people going about their lives in the segregated South before and after
the Civil War.
After the Civil War, he took the name of the
plantation owner and chose to remain on the plantation, living there
until he was eighty-four years old. It is likely he had no formal
education. He worked as a field hand, and married Lourisa
Duncan with whom he had nine children. (He fathered another
eleven children while on the Plantation). As adults, they lived
in Alabama, Washington DC and Detroit, Michigan.
In 1939 at
age 84, he decided to leave the plantation, saying "they're all gone",
meaning the grown children had moved away from the area and his wife
had died. He moved to Montgomery, Alabama where he worked in a shoe
factory until his rheumatism prevented him from doing physical
labor. On welfare, he took a rent-free sleeping room at the
Ross-Clayton Funeral Home, and divided his day time between the local
pool hall and the Montgomery fruit and vegetable market.
1942 to 1946, during World War II, he lived in Detroit and Washington
DC with his children, but then he returned to Montgomery for a year
where he resumed his former routines. During this period he had a
gangrenous leg amputated while living in Washington D.C. He died
in 1947 in a nursing home in Montgomery.
Traylor's artwork was
discovered by Charles Shannon, a white artist, who said that "Art
came from Traylor like water from a spring." (Rosenak 305-6). In
1939, Shannon met Traylor, then eighty five, when Traylor was sitting
on a wooden box drawing on Monroe Street in downtown Montgomery and had
just begun prolific drawing. They became friends, and Shannon
provided art materials to Traylor and arranged for a 1940 exhibition of
his work at the New South Art Center in Montgomery. The director
of the Museum of Modern Art in NY proposed to purchase 16 works for the
museum in 1943, but the sum he offered was so low that Shannon returned
After Traylor's death, Shannon was in possession
of 1500-2000 of his drawings, carefully catalogued them, and in
1979 submitted some of the drawings to auction after showing it in
exhibitions around the country. The public response was very
positive, and nearly fifty years after Traylor's death, he became one
of America's more famous folk artists, praised for his unique abilities
to express the culture where he lived.
Chuck and Jan Rosenak, Museum of American Folk Art Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century American Folk Art and Artists
Peter Falk, Who Was Who in American Art
Sotheby's New York