WASHINGTON, DC.- The Smithsonian American Art Museum
announced today the acquisition of six masterpieces by the self-taught American artist Bill Traylor. Each represents key themes and characters that recur in Traylors 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 193940 and Traylors largest extant painting, Untitled (Radio) from about 1942. The group is valued at more than $1 million.
The addition of six of Traylors works to the collection doubles the museums holdings by this artist. This combination purchase and gift from the Saslow Collection is the museums 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 museums holdings in this area.
These works will be featured in a major Traylor exhibition opening in Washington, D.C., March 16, 2018. Leslie Umberger, the museums curator of folk and self-taught art, began planning the exhibition Between Worlds: The Art of Bill Traylor soon after she joined the museums staff in 2012. The exhibition will be the first retrospective for an artist born into slavery.
Bill Traylor is among Americas most important artists and the Smithsonian American Art Museum is the ideal place to foster his artistic and historical legacy, Umberger said. Traylors works balance narration and abstraction and reflect both personal vision and black culture of his time. These works offer a rare perspective to the larger story of America, and the forthcoming retrospective will bring his work to new and wide-ranging audiences.
Traylor (born Benton, Ala., 185354; died Montgomery, Ala., 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.
Traylor has been represented in the museums collection since 1983 when collectors Chuck and Jan Rosenak donated Untitled (Pig), an opaque watercolor painting on paperboard. Two additional works were acquired in 1986 and 1991when Herbert Waide Hemphill Jr. donated Untitled (Man, Woman, and Dog) and Untitled (Woman with Umbrella and Man on Crutch). In 2015, the museum purchased two small Traylor works, a pencil drawing and a painting on paperboard, and that same year, Montgomery collector Micki Beth Stiller donated the painting Untitled (Chase Scene), an opaque watercolor on paperboard.
The Smithsonian American Art Museum has championed self-taught art as an embodiment of the democratic spirit since 1970 when it acquired and preserved James Hamptons iconic The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly. It is one of the only major American museums to advocate for a diverse populist voice within the context of what is traditionally considered great art. Recent exhibitions featuring major acquisitions have included Untitled: The Art of James Castle (2014), Ralph Fasanella: Lest We Forget (2014) and Mingering Mikes Supersonic Greatest Hits (2015). The museum has had dedicated gallery spaces for folk and selftaught art for more than 45 years. A new installation of these galleries, organized by Umberger, will open to the public Oct. 21.