Between Worlds : The Art of Bill Traylor - the exhibition catalogue from Smithsonian American Art Museum available to buy at Museum Bookstore

Between Worlds : The Art of Bill Traylor

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'the book combines the formidable research and lively writing of the show’s curator, Ms. Umberger, and it does more than detail as never before the achievement of this singular artist, who was born a slave. It also sets a new art-historical standard, undermining the romantic myth of the outsider as unknowable miracle worker by examining Traylor’s achievement in stunning detail.' - New York Times

A richly illustrated book exploring the work of Bill Traylor - one of America's foremost self-taught artists

A major new look at the work of one of America's foremost self-taught artists, Bill Traylor (ca. 1853-1949) came to art-making on his own and found his creative voice without guidance; today he is remembered as a renowned American artist. Traylor was born into slavery on an Alabama plantation, and his experiences spanned multiple worlds--black and white, rural and urban, old and new--as well as the crucibles that indelibly shaped America--the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and the Great Migration.

Between Worlds presents an unparalleled look at the work of this enigmatic and dazzling artist, who blended common imagery with arcane symbolism, narration with abstraction, and personal vision with the beliefs and folkways of his time. Traylor was about twelve when the Civil War ended. After six more decades of farm labour, he moved, ageing and alone, into segregated Montgomery.

In the last years of his life, he drew and painted works depicting plantation memories and the rising world of African American culture. Upon his death, he left behind over a thousand pieces of art. Between Worlds convenes 205 of his most powerful creations, including a number that have been previously unpublished.

This beautiful and carefully researched book assesses Traylor's biography and stylistic development, and for the first time interprets his scenes as ongoing narratives, conveying enduring, interrelated themes. Between Worlds reveals one man's visual record of African American life as a window into the overarching story of his nation. 

One of The New York Times best art books of 2018.

  • Author: Leslie Umberger, curator of folk and self-taught art at the Smithsonian American Art Museum
  • Hardcover: 448 pages | 244 colour and 61 black and white illustrations
  • Date published: October 2018
  • Language: English
  • ISBN: 978-0691182674
  • Product Dimensions: 30.9 x 24.5 cm

'[A] major undertaking. . . . [The book] includes chapters on the world in which [Traylor] lived, carefully documented by biographical details from surviving records, and discusses the emergence of his talent during an active period in late life while recounting how his preserved work captured the attention of the art world decades after his death'Antiques and the Arts

'[A] remarkable catalogue, which exhaustively lays out what can be known of Traylor's life, in its historical context, and of the references in his art' - New Yorker 

'Traylor's images . . . now count among the greatest works of 20th-century American art, and thanks to a magnificent catalogue, the artist is obscure no more' New York Times

'The detective work in Between Worlds is so engrossing that one may be forgiven for forgetting that the book is also an exhibition catalogue. It accompanies an extensive retrospective, now at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC, of Bill Traylor's paintings and drawings. Traylor, who died in 1949, is considered one of the most important 'folk' or 'self-taught' American artists. But this project demonstrates in magisterial manner how his work exceeds these limiting categories. . . . Umberger is refreshingly blunt about the art world's racial politics, the persistence and consequences of gatekeeping, and the way categories like 'folk art' marginalize the makers of those pieces. She offers deep research into the artist's like and work as a welcome remedy' - Bookforum 

'This meticulously researched catalogue . . . serves as a corrective to the persistent stereotyping of black art as primitive. . . . Now, with the Smithsonian exhibition and accompanying catalogue, Bill Traylor's testimony is available to the wider world' - Times Literary Supplement

'[A] groundbreaking monograph in which Umberger thoroughly reassesses the known facts of Traylor's life and family, his creative trajectory, and the art world's discovery of him and positions him within the broader context of American art' -ARTFIX daily

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