Traylor lived on the plantation of George Traylor until 1939 as a slave, father, farmer, handyman, and surveyor's assistant. He moved to Montgomery, Alabama, about 1939, after his wife died. He spent his days on the street drawing with a pencil and straight edge on discarded sheets of cardboard. Charles Shannon, a young artist, befriended him in the spring of 1939. He provided Traylor with brushes, poster paints, pencils and most importantly, comradery and financial assistance. Bill's work was rooted in his great sense of humor, his excellent aesthetic sense, and his rich storehouse of tales. His work evolved from the depiction of flat linear blacksmith shop tools to his simplified geometric baskets to his representational animal drawings and to his amusing and animated "Exciting Event" narratives. His last stylistic and thematic focus was his 1941-42 series of interactive figures and geometric constructions. Here, forms are masterfully placed on the cardboard to create an amusing effect, lend animation, establish an illusion of space, and to emphasize the importance of the figure(s) in a composition. Traylor also had a great understanding of the communicative power of exaggerated gestures. Charles Shannon recognized the quality of these works of art when no one cared about them and worked very diligently to enable the art of Bill Traylor to become well known and recognized by the art establishment.
Selected Permanent Collections:
High Museum of Art, Atlanta
Hunter Museum of American Art, Chattanooga
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Milwaukee Art Museum
Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts
Museum of American Folk Art, New York
Museum of Fine Arts, Alabama
Museum of Modern Art, New York
National Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C.
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York