Mingei Museum exhibits folk art of Bill Traylor


From Mingei Reports

A traveling exhibition of the work of Southern folk artist Bill Traylor is at Mingei International Museum in Balboa Park through May 12.

“Bill Traylor: Drawings from the Collections of the High Museum of Art and the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts,” contains more than 60 of Traylor’s drawings, including human and animal figures in depictions of his memories of plantation life and in the urban landscape in Alabama.

Although he worked largely in anonymity during his lifetime, Traylor became one of America’s most respected self-taught artists after his exposure to a larger public in the groundbreaking 1982 exhibition “Black Folk Art in America, 1930-1980,” which opened at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C. and traveled to four other U.S. cities.

About Bill Traylor

William Traylor was born into slavery in Lowndes County, near Benton, Ala., sometime between 1852 and 1856, and was freed by emancipation in 1863. For more than 60 years he worked as a field hand on the plantation where he was born.

Around 1935, Traylor 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. Recognizing Traylor’s talent, the younger artist and his colleagues from the New South Cultural Center provided Traylor with art supplies and preserved much of his work.

Traylor spent the war years living with his children in the North and returned to Montgomery in 1945, where he resumed drawing. In 1947 he briefly moved in with his daughter in Montgomery, but declining health soon forced him into a nursing home, where he died in 1949.

Traylor’s short career was prolific: he produced more than 1,200 works in graphite, colored pencil, poster paint, charcoal and crayon. Traylor’s work has been represented in at least 30 solo exhibitions and 85 group shows since the late 1970s, and he is now recognized as one of the finest American artists of the 20th century.

Related events

■ Three 6 p.m. dance classes: Instructor and organizer of Firehouse Swing, Meeshi Ravi presents on March 7 “The Roots of Swing: The African American influence on 20th Century Popular Dance, and Pre- swing: The Cake Walk and the Charleston”; March 14 ”Swing: The Lindy Hop and the Big Apple”; March 21 “Post-swing: Chicago Steppin’ and Soul Line Dancing.”

■ Early Evening: 6 p.m. Thursday, March 28, a chance to put those swing dance lessons into practice with live music, cocktails and southern soul food.

■ Family Sunday: Noon to 4 p.m. March 17, discounted $5 admission for the entire family, with Black Storytellers of San Diego, and opportunity for kids to create drawings and sculptures with cardboard.

If you go

■ What: ‘Bill Traylor: Drawings from the Collections of the High Museum of Art and the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts’

■ When: Through May 12. Tuesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

■ Where: Mingei International Museum, 1439 El Prado in Balboa Park, San Diego

■ Admission: $8 adults; $5 seniors, youth (age 6-17) and students/military with ID; Free for Mingei members and children under 6

■ Contact: (619) 239-0003

■ Website: