Untitled (Man and Woman) by Bill Traylor - 1939-1942 - 38 x 32 cm private collection Untitled (Man and Woman) by Bill Traylor - 1939-1942 - 38 x 32 cm private collection

Untitled (Man and Woman)

graphite, colored pencil and tempera on card • 38 x 32 cm
  • Bill Traylor - April 1, c. 1853 - October 23, 1949 Bill Traylor 1939-1942

Bill Traylor, an African American self-taught artist from Lowndes County, Alabama, was born into slavery and subsequently spent most of his life as a sharecropper following emancipation. The precise onset of Bill Traylor's artistic journey remains uncertain, but his earliest known works, consisting of rudimentary pencil drawings, date back to early 1939 when he was approximately 86 years old. After years of toiling on the farm, the elderly Traylor found solace in sketching near a blacksmith shop during the day and seeking lodging at a funeral home within the segregated black business district of Montgomery at night. In these initial drawings, Traylor keenly observed the world around him, capturing the essence of hand tools, objects, animals, and people, all while learning the art of organizing pictures as a means of documenting and narrating stories.

Between 1939 and 1942, as he worked on the sidewalks of Montgomery, Traylor created nearly 1,500 pieces of art. Although he had his first public exhibition in 1940, it was not until three decades after his passing that his work started to gain wider recognition, particularly in the late 1970s.

Traylor's captivating imagery serves as a testament to the intersection of vastly different worlds—rural and urban, black and white, old and new. His visual documentation of African American life not only offers a poignant glimpse into his personal narrative but also bestows a broader significance upon the collective story of his nation. His works are fascinating.

We present today's work as a part of our celebration of Black History Month.  :)

P.S. Harriet Powers was another African American artist from the American South who recently gained larger recognition. Discover her glorious quilts!