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Biography: William ‘Bill’ Traylor born April 1, 1854

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Biography and Genealogy


Lowndes County, Alabama

William “Bill” Traylor (April 1, 1854 – October 23, 1949) was a self-taught artist born into slavery to Bill and Sally Traylor on a plantation belonging to George Hartwell Traylor near Benton, in Lowndes County, Alabama. After emancipation, his family continued to farm on the plantation until the 1930s. Traylor grew into a tall, massive man and he sported a huge beard. He married Lorisa Dunklin and the couple had at least nine children according to census records. However, few records remain that include his life and family. He continued to sharecrop on the plantation to support his family. After the plantation owner George Traylor and his wife passed away, Bill Traylor still remained on the plantation and did not leave until George’s son Marion and his wife also passed away. He left the plantation when he was around 78 years of age. His advanced age and rheumatism forced him to walk with canes.

In 1939, at age eighty-five, he moved to Montgomery and became friends with the owner of a funeral home who allowed him to sleep in the back room between the caskets. “During the day, he sat on the sidewalk and drew images of the people he saw on the street and remembered scenes from life on the farm, hanging his works on the fence behind him. That year, he met Charles Shannon, a painter, who, with his friends from the New South, brought Traylor art supplies and bought his drawings for nominal sums.”

For the next four years, Traylor produced between 1200 and 1500 drawings. “In February 1940, the New South hosted an exhibition of Traylor drawings, and in 1942, the Fieldston School in Riverdale, New York, hosted an exhibition organized by Victor E. D’Amico. The shows produced no sales. During World War II, while Shannon served in the South Pacific, Traylor moved north to live with relatives. Returning to Montgomery in 1945, he lived on the street again until relief workers insisted that he move in with a daughter who lived in Montgomery. A requiem mass was held for Traylor at St. Jude Church after his death October 23, 1949,” at 93 years of age.

“In the late 1970s, Shannon, who had preserved Traylor’s drawings for over thirty years, began to show them to art dealers and museum professionals. This time, the drawings proved popular with critics and the public; two 1979 exhibitions at the R.H. Oosterom Gallery in New York launched a succession of almost forty solo shows and hundreds of group shows in the years since. Traylor has become among the most highly regarded and sought-after of self-taught artists. His work is held in many public collections including that of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art. The Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, with thirty-one drawings, and the High Museum of Art, with thirty-five, currently hold the largest public collections of Traylor drawings. The artist’s work also forms a part of many fine private collections of self-taught, contemporary, or Southern folk art.

Traylor is known for his intriguing use of pattern versus flat color, a sophisticated sense of space, and the simplified figures that give his work a startlingly modernist look. Using a stick for a straightedge, he created geometric silhouettes of human and animal figures which he then filled in with pencil, colored pencil, or poster paints. Much speculation surrounds the identification of mysteriously shaped objects, usually referred to as “constructions,” and the complex scenes he called “Exciting Events,” which depict groups of people energetically engaged in often puzzling activities.

A detail from Traylor’s Construction w/Figures and Animals was used for the cover of Joe Sample’s album, The Pecan Tree.”



2.One Man’s Memories

3.Encyclopedia of Alabama

4.High Museum to feature folk artist Bill Traylor

5.Find A Grave Memorial # 88469703


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About Donna R Causey

Donna R. Causey, resident of Alabama, was a teacher in the public school system for twenty years. When she retired, Donna found time to focus on her lifetime passion for historical writing. She developed the websites www.alabamapioneers and All her books can be purchased at and Barnes & Noble. She has authored numerous genealogy books. RIBBON OF LOVE: A Novel Of Colonial America (TAPESTRY OF LOVE) is her first novel in the Tapestry of Love about her family where she uses actual characters, facts, dates and places to create a story about life as it might have happened in colonial Virginia. Faith and Courage: Tapestry of Love (Volume 2) is the second book and the third FreeHearts: A Novel of Colonial America (Book 3 in the Tapestry of Love Series) Discordance: The Cottinghams (Volume 1) is the continuation of the story. . For a complete list of books, visit Donna R Causey

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