Bill Traylor 1854-1949: Deep Blues

June 17-August 22, 1999


Fleming Museum Director Ann Porter is pleased to announce an important exhibition of drawings by internationally acclaimed African American folk artist Bill Traylor. The exhibition, "Bill Traylor 1854-1949: Deep Blues" opens at the Museum on June 17 and continues through August 22, 1999. An afternoon symposium on outsider and folk art is planned for Saturday, June 19. Roger Cardinal, University of Kent, Canterbury, England and a leading expert on folk and outsider art, will be the keynote speaker. A 192-page catalogue accompanies the exhibition.

"Bill Traylor is one of the most well-known American Outsider artists. It is very exciting for the Fleming to bring this superb collection of his work from its debut exhibition in Europe to northern New England this summer. Traylor's work is highly imaginative and often humorous. We are also especially pleased that the informative exhibition catalogue, originally published in German, has been translated into English and will be available at the Museum's gift shop," said Ann Porter, director, Fleming Museum.

In addition to the 48 outstanding examples of Traylor's work in this exhibition on loan from public and private American collections are photographs of the artist at work and of Montgomery street scenes of the time taken by Charles Shannon. Shannon was painter and photographer who befriended Traylor in 1939, encouraged his artmaking, and promoted his work.

"Bill Traylor 1854-1949: Deep Blues," was organized by the Kunstmuseum in Bern, Switzerland, and subsequently traveled to the Ludwig Museum in Cologne, Germany. Its showing at the Robert Hull Fleming Museum is the exhibition's the only U.S. venue. The exhibition was made possible by contributions from ALANA Studies, the Center for Cultural Pluralism, Bailey/Howe Library, Division of Continuing Education, and Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity at the University of Vermont; the Walter Cerf Exhibitions Endowment; Pleuss-Staufer Industries, Inc./Omya, Inc.; Huber + Suhner North America; and Fleming Museum members.

A 192-page illustrated catalogue published by the Yale University Press/New Haven and London accompanies the exhibition and is available in the Museum Store. Originally published in German by DuMont in 1998 on the occasion of the opening of the exhibition at the Kunstmuseum Bern, the English language version has been published on the occasion of the transfer of the exhibition to the Fleming Museum. The catalogue is edited by Josef Helfenstein, conservator of the graphics collection and the Paul Klee Foundation at the Kunstmuseum Bern, and currently George A. Miller Visiting Professor at the University of Illinois, and Roman Kurzmeyer, head of the "Project Space" at the Kunsthalle Bern. Contributors include Alfred M. Fischer, curator of the graphics collection at the Museum Ludwig, Cologne; Peter Morrin, director of the J. B. Speed Art Museum, Louisville, Kentucky; Phil Patton, freelance journalist; Eugenia Carter Shannon; and Lowery Stokes Sims, curator of twentieth century art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.


BILL TRAYLOR 1854-1949

Bill Traylor is considered one of America's leading self-taught artists, working in a manner variously referred to as Folk, Outsider, or Visionary Art. Traylor was born into slavery on a plantation near Selma, Alabama in 1854. He spent almost 80 years working on the land, first as a slave and then as a laborer. At age 85, Traylor began drawing with pencil and poster paints on cardboard, sitting on the sidewalk on Monroe Street in Montgomery, Alabama. He drew and painted steadily from 1939 to 1942, stopping when he joined his children in the North during World War II.

Traylor's work was first shown in Montgomery in 1940, and became widely known in 1982 when he was included in the Corcoran Gallery of Art's landmark exhibition "Black Folk Art in America: 1930-1980." Traylor's subjects arose from his life experiences, his observations of Montgomery street life, and his imagination.



Roger Cardinal's 1972 book "Outsider Art" popularized the use of this term to define art produced by people who have had no formal training in art. In this sense it is closely aligned with the more familiar term "Folk Art." The difference between the two is a matter of degree. Outsider artists are considered to live and work "outside" mainstream culture. Interest in what is now called "Outsider Art" began in the first half of this century in Europe when psychiatrists and artists began studying the art work of the mentally ill.

Images from top to bottom: Bill Traylor, Man Bending Back Smoking, 1940/42, chalk and colored pencil on cardboard. Collection William Louis-Dreyfus; Bill Traylor, Man in Red Pants Pointing, 1940/42, poster paint and pencil on cardboard. Collection William Louis-Dreyfus; Bill Traylor, Turtle Swimming Down, 1939, poster paint and pencil on cardboard. Collection William Louis-Dreyfus

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