"Between Worlds: The Art of Bill Traylor"



Blessed is the former slave, for he shall one day be called a master.
Blessed are the unlettered, for they are not burdened with theories of history.
Blessed are the poor, for they make the most of what they are given.
Blessed are the aged, for they can be forever young.
Blessed are the dead, for they are gone. We are on our own now. —Kerry James Marshall

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Bill Traylor (ca. 1853–1949) is regarded today as one of the most important American artists of the twentieth century. A black man born into slavery in Alabama, he 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. Traylor would not live to see the civil rights movement, but he was among those who laid its foundation. Starting around 1939—by then in his late eighties and living on the streets of Montgomery—Traylor made the radical steps of taking up pencil and paintbrush and attesting to his existence and point of view. The paintings and drawings he made are visually striking and politically assertive; they include simple yet powerful distillations of tales and memories as well as spare, vibrantly colored abstractions. When Traylor died in 1949, he left behind more than one thousand works of art. 

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