Bill Traylor
The Traylor Room, Private Collection

Bill Traylor (American, 1854-1949)

A rare selection of works by Bill Traylor are available through BMS Art from a private collection.
Contact us for details.

Retrospective 2018

Bill Traylor - Man Red Shirt Cane


William “Bill” Traylor (1853–1949) was an African-American self-taught artist from Lowndes County, Alabama. Born into slavery, Traylor spent the majority of his life after emancipation as a sharecropper. It was only after 1939, following his move to Montgomery, Alabama that Traylor began to draw. At the age of 85, he took up a pencil and a scrap of cardboard to document his recollections and observations. From 1939 to 1942, while working on the sidewalks of Montgomery, Traylor produced nearly 1,500 pieces of art.

While Traylor received his first public exhibition in 1940, it wasn’t until the late 1970s, thirty years after his death, that his work finally began to receive broader attention. Recent acceptance of Traylor as a significant figure of American folk and modern art has been founded on the efforts of Charles Shannon, as well as the evolving tastes of the art world. Shannon, who first encountered Traylor’s work in 1940, brought Traylor to the attention of the larger art world. Since then, public and scholarly perception of Bill Traylor’s life and work has been in constant evolution. First held up as an example of “primitive” or “outsider” art, Traylor now holds a central position in the fields of “self-taught” and modern art.

As a collection, Traylor’s drawings depict his experiences and observations from rural and urban life in pared down repeated symbols, shapes, and figures. His visual lexicon includes images of people, plants, animals, and local landmarks. While some pieces focus on a single animal, like a dog or snake, other paintings offer composed scenes of individuals gathering by a fountain or working on a farm.

His works range from simple single-figured depictions to more compositionally complicated pieces of multiple silhouetted figures. Shannon remarked that the evolution reflected Traylor’s own maturation as an artist. The pieces from Traylor’s last year of work “brought together many of the visual themes he had developed by this time: strong abstract forms, combination plant-animal and abstract forms, people in various ‘states’ ranging from serenity to hysteria, thieves and drinks and devilish kids”. In his work, Traylor presented himself both as a documentarian and a storyteller. From the sidewalk, he recorded both the day-to-day lives of passing friends and neighbors in Montgomery and his own past experiences in Benton. His simplified forms and figures provide invaluable insight into the hardships and realities of African-Americans, living under Jim Crow in rural and urban Alabama.

-from Wikipedia-