Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Bill Traylor


William "Bill" Traylor (April 1, 1854 – October 23, 1949) was a self-taught 
artist born into slavery on a plantation belonging to George Hartwell Traylor 
near Benton, in Lowndes County, Alabama. After emancipation, his family 
continued to farm on the plantation until the 1930s. In 1939, at age eighty-
five, he moved to Montgomery, where he slept in the back room of a funeral 
home and in a shoemaker's shop. During the day, he sat on the sidewalk and 
drew images of the people he saw on the street and remembered scenes from 
life on the farm, hanging his works on the fence behind him, employing found 
materials such as pencil stubs and shirt cardboard. That year, he met Charles 
Shannon, a painter, who, with friends from the 'New South' cultural group, 
brought Traylor art supplies, such as poster paints (which he used), and 
drawing paper (which he rejected), and bought his drawings for nominal sums.

During the next four years, Traylor produced between 1200 and 1500 drawings.
In February, 1940, the New South hosted an exhibition of Traylor drawings, 
and in 1942, the Fieldston School in Riverdale, New York, hosted an exhibition 
organized by Victor E. D'Amico. The shows produced no sales. During World 
War II, while Shannon served in the South Pacific, Traylor moved north to live 
with relatives. Returning to Montgomery in 1945, he lived on the street again 
until relief workers insisted that he move in with a daughter who lived in 
Montgomery. A requiem mass was held for Traylor at St. Jude Church after his 
death October 23, 1949.

In the late 1970s, Shannon, who had preserved Traylor's drawings for over 
thirty years, began to show them to art dealers and museum professionals. 
This time, the drawings proved popular with critics and the public; two 1979 
exhibitions at the R.H. Oosterom Gallery in New York launched a succession of 
almost forty solo shows and hundreds of group shows in the years since. 
Traylor has become among the most highly regarded and sought-after of self-
taught artists. His work is held in many public collections including that of the 
Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art. The Montgomery 
Museum of Fine Arts, with thirty-one drawings, and the High Museum of Art, 
with thirty-five, currently hold the largest public collections of Traylor drawings. 
The artist's work also forms a part of many fine private collections of self-
taught, contemporary, or Southern folk art. Prime examples of Traylor's art 
have been known to fetch 6-figure sums on the international art market.

Traylor is known for his intriguing use of pattern versus flat color, 
sophisticated sense of space, and the simplified figures that give his work
startlingly modernist look. Using a stick for a straightedge, he created 
geometric silhouettes of human and animal figures which he then filled in with 
pencil, colored pencil, or poster paints. Much speculation surrounds 
the identification of mysteriously shaped objects, usually referred to as 
"constructions," and the complex scenes he called "Exciting Events," which 
depict groups of people energetically engaged in often puzzling activities.

--- wikipedia ---

Albert Kraus, Bill Traylor in his daughter's
yard on Bragg Street, Montgomery, Alabama, 1948

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