Margot Mifflin
November 22, 1991 AT 05:00 AM EST

Bill Traylor: His Art, His Life

type
Book
Current Status
In Season
author
Frank Maresca, Roger Ricco
publisher
Knopf
genre
Nonfiction, Art/Fine Art, Biography

We gave it an A

Bill Traylor was a freed slave who produced more than 1,500 stunning artworks on cardboard during a three-year ”career” between 1939 and 1942. The first black folk artist to command widespread recognition — 30 years after his death, that is — Traylor began drawing on a Montgomery, Ala., sidewalk when he was 85, and was soon discovered by Charles Shannon, the Alabaman who preserved the pictures featured in Bill Traylor: His Art, His Life. When Shannon arranged Traylor’s first show in a local gallery in 1939, the artist’s sole reaction to his collected oeuvre was, ”Lookit dat man ’bout to hit dat chicken.” Why did Traylor suddenly start drawing? Where are the 22 children he supposedly raised? How did he contract gangrene and lose his leg? The editors have not bothered to fill out Traylor’s biography, but the man’s art — sprung from the head of an illiterate genius — speaks for itself. A

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