The Art of Bill Traylor
With a foreword by Stephanie Stebich and an introduction by Kerry James Marshall
A major new look at the work of one of America’s foremost self-taught artists
Bill Traylor (ca. 1853–1949) came to art-making on his own and found his creative voice without guidance; today he is remembered as a renowned American artist. Traylor was born into slavery on an Alabama plantation, and his experiences spanned multiple worlds—black and white, rural and urban, old and new—as well as the crucibles that indelibly shaped America—the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and the Great Migration. Between Worlds presents an unparalleled look at the work of this enigmatic and dazzling artist, who blended common imagery with arcane symbolism, narration with abstraction, and personal vision with the beliefs and folkways of his time.
Traylor was about twelve when the Civil War ended. After six more decades of farm labor, he moved, aging and alone, into segregated Montgomery. In the last years of his life, he drew and painted works depicting plantation memories and the rising world of African American culture. Upon his death he left behind over a thousand pieces of art. Between Worlds convenes 205 of his most powerful creations, including a number that have been previously unpublished. This beautiful and carefully researched book assesses Traylor’s biography and stylistic development, and for the first time interprets his scenes as ongoing narratives, conveying enduring, interrelated themes.
Between Worlds reveals one man’s visual record of African American life as a window into the overarching story of his nation.
Smithsonian American Art Museum
September 28, 2018–March 17, 2019
Leslie Umberger is curator of folk and self-taught art at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Stephanie Stebich is the Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Kerry James Marshall is an internationally renowned artist and 1997 MacArthur Fellow.