Bill Traylor, regarded today as one of America’s most important artists, was born into an enslaved family in rural Alabama around 1853. Traylor and his family continued to work as farm laborers after Emancipation, work that Traylor himself spent some seven decades doing. In the late 1920s, Traylor moved by himself to Montgomery, Alabama. About a decade later, no longer able to take on heavy physical labor, he began to make drawings. What does it mean for Traylor, untrained as an artist, to now be held in such high esteem?
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Bill Traylor (ca. 1853–1949) is among the most important American artists of the twentieth century. Born into an enslaved family in rural 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.