collections of Traylor’s work. Both acquired their first 30 Traylor drawings in 1982 directly from the artist Charles Shannon, a member of the New South cultural center who had befriended Traylor and saved his drawings.
“As he sat under the awning near the pool hall on Monroe Avenue, Traylor took the raw material of his origins at the fertile intersection of African and European cultures and worked at shaping his life experiences into a meaningful story,” says Susan Crawley, the High’s curator of folk art. “And he put them in a form he could look at and hold in his hands.”
William Traylor was born into slavery in Lowndes County, near Benton, Alabama, sometime between 1852 and 1856, and was freed by emancipation in 1863. For more than 50 years he worked as a field hand on the plantation where he was born. By 1928 he had moved to the nearby city of Montgomery, where he spent his nights in the back room of a funeral parlor and, later, a shoe repair shop.
He spent his days sitting on the city sidewalks, where he drew scenes from both his memories of plantation life and the street life around him. In 1939, he met the painter Charles Shannon.