Symposium Speaker Bios and Abstracts — Between Worlds: The Art of Bill Traylor” Symposium

Margaret Lynne Ausfeld

Senior Curator of Art and Curator of Collections, Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts


Margaret Lynne Ausfeld is the senior curator of art and curator of collections at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts. She has written extensively about the art and material culture of the southeastern United States. Significant publications include Bill Traylor: Drawings from the Collections of the High Museum of Art and the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts (2012), History Refused to Die: The Enduring Legacy of the African American Art of Alabama (2015), and American Paintings from the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts (2006).

Leslie Umberger

Curator of Folk and Self-Taught Art, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
“The Art of Bill Traylor: Interpreting a Visual History”

Bio and Abstract

Leslie Umberger is curator of folk and self-taught art at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. She organized the major retrospective, and is the author of the accompanying monograph, Between Worlds: The Art of Bill Traylor, and in 2017 directed the reinstallation of SAAM’s folk art galleries. Her other notable publications include Something to Take My Place: The Art of Lonnie Holley (2015), Untitled: The Art of James Castle (2014), and Sublime Spaces & Visionary Worlds: Built Environments of Vernacular Artists (2007).

Abstract:Between Worlds: The Art of Bill Traylor presents an unparalleled look at an enigmatic artist whose lifetime in Alabama bridged the final years of slavery and the dawning civil rights movement. Leslie Umberger, curator of the exhibition and author of the accompanying monograph, presents an overview of Traylor’s art and the personal and cultural experiences that shaped it. She discusses the complexities of researching the life of an African American born in the antebellum South, and of interpreting an autobiographical oeuvre recorded almost solely in pictures, setting the stage for the afternoon’s talks.

William Ferris

Joel R. Williamson Eminent Professor of History, Emeritus and Senior Associate Director Emeritus, Center for the Study of the American South, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
“Memory and Sense of Place in the Art of Bill Traylor”


William Ferris, a widely recognized leader in Southern studies, African American music, and folklore, is the Joel R. Williamson Eminent Professor of History Emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and senior associate director emeritus of its Center for the Study of the American South. Former chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities (1997–2001), Ferris has written or edited ten books and created fifteen documentary films. He coedited the monumental Encyclopedia of Southern Culture (1989), which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. In 1991, Rolling Stone magazine named Ferris among the top ten professors in the United States.

Richard J. Powell

John Spencer Bassett Professor of Art and Art History, Duke University, Durham, NC
“Bill Traylor's Yellow Chicken

Bio and Abstract

Richard J. Powell is the John Spencer Bassett Professor of Art and Art History at Duke University and the Spring 2019 Edmond J. Safra Visiting Professor at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Among his publications are Homecoming: The Art and Life of William H. Johnson (1991), Black Art: A Cultural History (2002), and Cutting a Figure: Fashioning Black Portraiture (2008). Powell has curated numerous art exhibitions, including To Conserve a Legacy: American Art at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (1999) and Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist (2014). His forthcoming book examines black visual satire from the Harlem Renaissance to the present.

Abstract: Painter Charles Shannon recounted that while escorting the amazing, eighty-something year old artist Bill Traylor through this ex-slave's premiere exhibition of drawings and paintings at the New South gallery in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1940, Traylor pointed to one and remarked, "Lookit dat man 'bout to hit dat chicken." This talk examines Yellow Chicken (ca. 1939-40), one of those exhibited drawings that, while in all likelihood was not the artwork which Traylor referred to, emerges in Traylor's documented oeuvre as one of his most evocative creations, capturing his painterly and graphic bravura, unique blend of visual anthropomorphism, and narrative melodrama.

Randall Seth Morris

Independent Curator, Writer, and Co-owner of Cavin-Morris Gallery, New York, NY
“Hoodoo in the Homeground: The Conjure Context in Bill Traylor's Drawings”

Bio and Abstract

Randall Morris is an independent curator, writer, and co-owner of Cavin-Morris Gallery in New York City. He has published articles on art brut and global non-mainstream arts since 1979, specializing in the art of the African-Atlantic diaspora, as well as essays on Jon Serl, Justin McCarthy, Martín Ramírez, Henry Darger, Emery Blagdon, and non-mainstream art from Japan, Jamaica, and Haiti. Morris is currently working on a book about American art brut titled Edgewalkers and World Builders, and is curating a major exhibition on the art of the African-Atlantic diaspora, including North, South, and Central America, at Halle Saint Pierre in Paris in 2021.

Abstract: Published accounts have offered two versions of Bill Traylor, one being the often published profile of him as a conjure man practicing the mystical aspect of a slave religion and its changes over time; the other conceding that while he may not have been a conjure man himself, he was familiar with hoodoo culture, as evidenced by his drawings. Morris discusses these views and proposes that a more encompassing context about the religion itself may help reconcile these two theories and aid future research.

Diana Baird N’Diaye

Senior Curator, Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, Washington, D.C.
“Bill Traylor’s Stylescapes”

Bio and Abstract

Diana Baird N’Diaye is a cultural specialist and curator at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. Her training in anthropology, folklore, and visual studies and experience as a studio craft artist support over thirty years of fieldwork, exhibitions, programs, and publications focusing on Africa, the Caribbean, and their diasporas in the United States; children’s play and performance; and dress traditions and fashion in Oman, Mali, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Japan. She has served widely on juries and advisory, policy, and funding panels, including UNESCO, the NEA, and the American Folklore Society.

Abstract: Building on her major project, The Will to Adorn: African American Dress and the Aesthetics of Identity (2013), Baird N’Diaye connects this rich cultural history to Traylor’s evocative, stylized representations of men and women in his Alabama community. She proposes that his presentation of richly patterned and colored garments, along with a wide range of accoutrements, were a subtly subversive means of asserting cultural pride and recording the profound change Traylor had witnessed between his early plantation life and midcentury Montgomery.

Radcliffe Bailey

Artist, Atlanta, GA
“Bill Traylor Blue”

Bio and Abstract

Radcliffe Bailey is an artist who utilizes imagery, culturally resonant materials, and text to explore collective consciousness and shared histories of African diasporas. Solo exhibitions include Pensive, SCAD Museum of Art; Radcliffe Bailey: Recent Works, Contemporary Arts Center, New Orleans; and Memory as Medicine at the High Museum of Art. Upcoming exhibitions include The Sixteenth Istanbul Biennial and Travelogue, a solo exhibition at the Knoxville Museum of Art. Bailey’s work is in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the Art Institute of Chicago. Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, has represented Bailey since 1999.

Abstract: As an art student in Georgia, Radcliffe Bailey began exploring the nexus of personal identity and cultural heritage, considering aesthetic continuums and transformations spanning ancient West Africa and the American South. An early encounter with Bill Traylor’s art would have a lasting impact on Bailey’s work. In his presentation, Bailey offers an artist’s perspective on Traylor’s strikingly original imagery, and how the elder artist’s ability to improvise, invent, and assert himself via color, shape, and space have informed his own creative practice.