Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature

Bill Traylor: Sidewalk Genius

Waving Man: poster paint and pencil on cardboard.

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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.

Bill Traylor

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.

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Man in Blue Pants: paint, pencil, colored pencil and charcoal on cardboard.

Woman with Chickens

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Dog Walking Man

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Untitled watercolor and graphite on cardboard

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Untitled graphite and ink on cardboard

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House with Figures: poster paint and pencil on cardboard


Biography and artwork compiled by Michael Simms

One comment on “Bill Traylor: Sidewalk Genius

  1. marandarussell
    May 15, 2019

    Love this art! As an outsider artist myself, I love to see the genre featured!

    Liked by 1 person

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