Between Worlds: The Art of Bill Traylor at Smithsonian American Art Museum, September 28, 2018 – March 17, 2019

“Bill Traylor (ca. 1853–1949) is among the most important American artists of the 20th century. Born in antebellum Alabama, Traylor was an eyewitness to history—the Civil War, Emancipation, Reconstruction, Jim Crow segregation, the Great Migration and the steady rise of African American urban culture in the South. In the late 1930s, a decade after leaving plantation life and moving to the city of Montgomery, Alabama, Traylor took up pencil and paintbrush and created a visual autobiography, images on discarded cardboard extracted from his memories and experiences. When he died in 1949, Traylor left behind more than 1,000 works of art, the only known person born enslaved, and entirely self-taught, to create an extensive body of graphic artworks.

Between Worlds: The Art of Bill Traylor brings together 155 drawings and paintings to provide the most encompassing and in-depth study of the artist to date. This major retrospective is drawn from public and private collections across the country and abroad and includes 17 works from the collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. It presents a comprehensive picture of Traylor’s stylistic development and artistic themes, explored in the context of the profoundly different worlds Traylor’s life bridged: rural and urban, black and white, old and new.” — Smithsonian American Art Museum

Bill Traylor, Untitled (Man, Woman, and Dog), 1939, crayon and pencil on paperboard. Smithsonian American Art Museum; Gift of Herbert Waide Hemphill, Jr., and museum purchase made possible by Ralph Cross Johnson. Photo by Mindy Barrett

Bill Traylor, Untitled (Dog Fight with Writing), ca. 1939–1940, opaque watercolor and pencil on paperboard. Smithsonian American Art Museum; Museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment. Photo by Gene Young

Bill Traylor, Untitled (Radio), ca. 1940–1942, opaque watercolor and pencil on printed advertising paperboard. Smithsonian American Art Museum; Museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment. Photo by Gene Young

Bill Traylor, Untitled (Yellow and Blue House with Figures and Dog), July 1939, colored pencil on paperboard. Smithsonian American Art Museum; Museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment. Photo by Gene Young

Bill Traylor, Untitled (Red Goat with Snake), ca. 1940–1942, opaque watercolor and pencil on paperboard. Smithsonian American Art Museum; Gift of Judy A. Saslow. Photo by Gene Young

Bill Traylor, Man with Yoke, ca. 1939–1942, pencil and gouache on cardboard. Private Collection. Photo by Bonnie H. Morrison, NYC

Bill Traylor, Untitled (Blue Man on Red Object), ca. 1939–1942, poster paint and pencil on cardboard. High Museum of Art, Atlanta, purchase with funds from Mrs. Lindsey Hopkins, Jr., Edith G. and Philip A. Rhodes, and the Members Guild. Photo by Mike Jensen

Bill Traylor, Untitled (Man Carrying Dog on Object), ca. 1939–1942, poster paint and graphite on cardboard. High Museum of Art, Atlanta, purchase with funds from Mrs. Lindsey Hopkins, Jr., Edith G. and Philip A. Rhodes, and the Members Guild. Photo by Mike Jensen

Bill Traylor, Untitled (Event with Man in Blue and Snake), 1939, colored pencil and pencil on cardboard. Collection of Penny and Allan Katz. Photography by Gavin Ashworth

Bill Traylor, Man and Large Dog (Verso: Man and Woman), ca. 1939–1942, poster paint and pencil on cardboard. Collection of Jerry and Susan Lauren. Photo: Matt Flynn © Smithsonian Institution

Bill Traylor, Man in Black and Blue with Cigar and Suitcase, ca. 1939–1942, pencil and poster paint on cardboard. Collection of Jerry and Susan Lauren. Photo: Matt Flynn © Smithsonian Institution

Bill Traylor, Mean Dog (Verso: Man Leading Mule), ca. 1939–1942, poster paint and pencil on cardboard. Collection of Jerry and Susan Lauren. Photo: Matt Flynn © Smithsonian Institution

Bill Traylor, Truncated Blue Man with Pipe, ca. 1939–1942, poster paint and pencil on cardboard. Louis-Dreyfus Family Collection. Photo: William Louis-Dreyfus Foundation Inc.

Bill Traylor, Figures and Construction with Cat, ca. 1939–1942, gouache and pencil on cardboard. Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Promised Gift of Charles E. and Eugenia C. Shannon. Image copyright © The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image source: Art Resource, NY

Bill Traylor, Self-Portrait, ca. 1939–1940, gouache and pencil on cardboard. Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Promised Gift of Charles E. and Eugenia C. Shannon. Image copyright © The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image source: Art Resource, NY

Bill Traylor, Untitled, ca. 1939–1942, colored pencil on cardboard. Collection of Jan Petry and Angie Mills. Photograph © John A. Faier

Bill Traylor, Leg Forms with Bird, ca. 1939–1940, charcoal on cardboard. Private Collection. Photo: Stephanie Arnett

Between Worlds: The Art of Bill Traylor is organized by Leslie Umberger, curator of folk and self-taught art at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The museum is the sole venue for this exhibition.

Images courtesy Smithsonian American Art Museum.