It Jes' Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw
by Don Tate, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
Lee & Low, 2012. Unpaged. Biography
Bill Traylor grew up a slave, and after the Civil War, share-cropped with his family on their former master's land. As a child he pulled weeds, fetched water, and chopped wood. Later he would pick cotton and plow the land with an old and cantankerous mule. When his wife died and all his children moved away, Bill moved to Montgomery, Alabama, but since he didn't know how to do anything but farming , he couldn't find enough work to support himself. He slept in a mortuary among the coffins and when he was eighty-five years old he started to draw, first with the stub of a pencil and later with paints and colored pencils provided him by a young artist friend. By the time he died, Traylor had drawn and colored hundreds, maybe thousands of pictures onto the backs of boxes and of discarded paper bags, that eventually won him fame as one of the great self-taught artists in American art history. Tate and Christie's book conveys beautifully what Traylor's life seemed like to him, in his own style. One would have like to have seen more of Traylor's actual work, but the Blue Man with Umbrella and Suitcase on the very last page is a good representative of Traylor's naive folk art, the perfect ending to a heart-breaking but life-affirming book.