Published: May 13, 2016
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Smithsonian American Art Museum has acquired six masterpieces by the self-taught American artist Bill Traylor. Each represents key themes and characters that recur in Traylor’s brief but prolific artistic career. The group, from the collection of Judy Saslow in Chicago, includes the early untitled (Yellow and Blue House with Figures and Dog) and untitled (Dog Fight with Writing) from about 1939-40 and Traylor’s largest extant painting, untitled (Radio) from about 1942. The group is valued at more than $1 million.
The addition of six of Traylor’s works to the collection doubles the museum’s holdings by this artist. This combination purchase and gift from the Saslow collection is the museum’s most significant acquisition of folk and self-taught art since 1986, when more than 500 works from the Herbert Waide Hemphill Jr collection became the cornerstone of the museum’s holdings in this area.
These works will be featured in a major Traylor exhibition opening on March 16, 2018. Leslie Umberger, the museum’s curator of folk and self-taught art, began planning the exhibition “Between Worlds: The Art of Bill Traylor” soon after she joined the museum’s staff in 2012. The exhibition will be the first retrospective for an artist born into slavery.
Traylor (1853/54-1949) was born on a cotton plantation where he worked as a sharecropper after emancipation. Around 1930, Traylor moved to segregated Montgomery, where he lived the rest of his life, homeless and increasingly disabled. In his last decade, he began to draw. He left behind more than 1,000 drawings and paintings on discarded cardboard boxes and advertising cards. His imagery embodies the crossroads of multiple worlds: black and white, rural and urban, old and new.
The Smithsonian American Art Museum is at Eighth and F streets N.W., above the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metrorail station. For information, 202-633-1000 or www.americanart.si.edu.
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