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Comments (2) Posted 07.15.12 | PERMALINK | PRINT

John Foster

Accidental Mysteries: 07.15.12


Bill Traylor was born a slave in 1854. He lived on George Hartwell Traylor's plantation in Benton, Alabama long after he was freed, eventually migrating to Montgomery in the mid-1930s. It was there that Traylor began to draw, always from memory — the animals, people and events he recalled in his life. With a sure hand and a minimalistic style, Traylor developed a self-taught visual vocabulary that has been applauded, written about and collected by major museums. Though his work was shown a few times in the 1940s, it was largely forgotten about and unknown until the early 1980s. Since then, his work has skyrocketed in appreciation and value, with even small works on cardboard selling for over $100,000. Traylor died in 1949.

Bill Traylor

Bill Traylor

Bill Traylor

Bill Traylor

Bill Traylor

Bill Traylor

Bill Traylor

Bill Traylor

Bill Traylor

Bill Traylor

Bill Traylor

Bill Traylor

Bill Traylor

Bill Traylor

Bill Traylor

Bill Traylor

Accidental Mysteries is an online curiosity shop of extraordinary things, mined from the depths of the online world and brought to you each week by John Foster, a writer, designer and longtime collector of self-taught art and vernacular photography. “I enjoy the search for incredible, obscure objects that challenge, delight and amuse my eye. More so, I enjoy sharing these discoveries with the diverse and informed readers of Design Observer.”

Editor's Note: All images are copyright of their original owners.

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I was looking at a book about Traylor the other night and saw it all differently, perhaps because I've been reading so much about the lives of slaves. I noticed that he said you can distinguish the black from white people by drawing a straight line from the tip of the nose to the chin. If the lips meet the line, it's a black man. That was my new way in. Now I see that the pictures are largely about terrorism. Black people are being chased, trodden, threatened, hounded. The dogs, especially, have terrible sharp teeth and a howling stance, like the dogs used to run down fugitives and tear out their throats. God rest his tortured soul. At 84, in the early 30s, he left the plantation after the death of his employer/erstwhile massa, and went to Montgomery, AL, where he got a job in a shoe factory. Who hires an 84 year old man for factory work? Got rest his tortured soul. He transmuted horror into beauty. We should look hard at these pictures and all follow his lead.

07.19.12 at 11:50

Bill Traylor's figures often seem as though they've wandered from the walls of forgotten caves, reappearing to whisper to those of us who have eyes to see and ears to hear. I found Traylor while in art school, eventually designing a poster in celebration of his life, and came across this wonderful quote by Peter Morrin in the book Deep Blues: "Traylor rhymed negative spaces like Matisse." Indeed, his ability to communicate through delicately balanced figure and ground relationships, and with such haunting, soulful forms is extraordinary. There is much for a designer and artist to learn here... and it is clearly a good thing to spend time with chickens, rabbits, and turtles.

08.02.12 at 12:00


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Foster and his wife, Teenuh, have been longtime collectors of self-taught art and vernacular photography. Their collection of anonymous, found snapshots has toured the country for five years and has been featured in Harper’s, Newsweek Online and others.
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