Bill Traylor (ca. 1853–1949) is regarded today as one of the most important American artists of the twentieth century. A black man born into slavery in 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.
The official catalogue for the exhibition Between Worlds: The Art of Bill Traylor, on view at the Smithsonian American Art Museum from September 28, 2018 through April 7, 2019, is by curator Leslie Umberger, with an introduction by artist Kerry James Marshall. The book features 205 of Traylor’s artworks along with 83 supplemental illustrations, city maps of Montgomery, family trees, a timeline of key events from Traylor’s life and an extensive bibliography. Umberger’s carefully researched chapters offer a richly woven tapestry of social history, biography and art history, creating a portrait of 19th- and early 20th-century Alabama and how it shaped Traylor and his art. The chapters explore Traylor’s life and position his art against the backdrop of that life, concluding with an examination of the posthumous attention Traylor’s work has garnered.