Bill Traylor’s (ca. 1853-1949) life bridged disparate worlds: rural and urban, black and white, old and new. Born in antebellum Alabama, Traylor’s experience spanned the Civil War, Emancipation, Reconstruction, Jim Crow segregation, the Great Migration—and though it all, the steady rise of African American urban culture in the South. After seven decades of rural life and farm labor, Traylor moved into the cityscape of segregated Montgomery. In his last years, he began to draw and paint the stories and memories of his life. Traylor became an artist at a time and in a place where personal expression for black Americans posed great risk, yet the images he made boldly attest to his own existence and point of view.
When Traylor died, he left behind the only known body of drawn and painted work to chart this complex, drawn out moment between slavery and civil rights. Between Worlds: The Art of Bill Traylor is the first major retrospective ever organized for an artist born enslaved, and the most comprehensive look at Bill Traylor’s work to date.