Visitors to the black neighborhood of Montgomery, Alabama, in 1940 would have been treated to an unexpected sight. In a chair next to Coca-Cola cooler sat a massive, dignified old man with a board across his lap, drawing. He never stopped. On his small pieces of cardboard, he brought to life a world of chicken stealing, hunting, plowing, preaching, drinking, arguing and testifying, as well as many vivid representations of the animal world.

In only three years, between 1939 and 1942, Bill Traylor—former slave, factory worker, and homeless welfare recipient, who slept on a wooden pallet for many years—created his own extraordinary history of drawing in 1,300 images. Most were preserved by his friend and fellow artist, Charles Shannon. Traylor was black, Shannon white.

Traylor was born a slave on the Traylor plantation near Benton, Alabama, around 1854. After being emancipated, he worked there as a field hand until he left for Montgomery. Welfare records indicate that he may have been in Montgomery as early as 1936. He probably began drawing not long before Shannon first saw him. His technique developed rapidly from the use of simple geometric shapes to complex abstract constructions peopled with multiple tiny figures in motion.

Once he began he worked every day, following the same routine, surrounded by the jugs of kerosene and sacks of feed that his friends had left him to guard. There he sat, drawing and painting the animals and scenes he remembered from his rural days and the characters in the street around him. see more…


The Economist article (February 2012)


Bill Traylor: An American Prodigy


Bill Traylor: Observing Life
Bill Traylor: His Art, His Life

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