It Jes' Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw

It Jes' Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw

by Don Tate, R. Gregory Christie

A biography of self-taught (outsider) artist Bill Traylor, a former slave who at the age of eighty-five began to draw pictures based on his memories and observations of rural and urban life in Alabama.  See more details below


A biography of self-taught (outsider) artist Bill Traylor, a former slave who at the age of eighty-five began to draw pictures based on his memories and observations of rural and urban life in Alabama.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In 1939 Montgomery, Ala., 85-year-old former slave Bill Traylor began to draw. In understated prose, Tate imagines the wellspring of memories that might have contributed to Traylor’s outpouring of art so late in life: jumping in the Alabama River as a child, witnessing the Civil War and its aftermath, and caring for animals on the farm where he lived after emancipation: “Bill saved up these memories deep inside.” After the death of his wife, Traylor moved into Montgomery, where, homeless, he began drawing on sidewalks and assorted objects. Soon after, an artist named Charles Shannon took an interest in his work, arranging for an exhibit of Traylor’s work. Christie’s acrylic and gouache illustrations nod toward Traylor’s own style, with bold color blocks and naïf figures, in this thoughtful reflection on the nature of creative inspiration and a man who “has come to be regarded as one of the most important self-taught American folk artists.” Ages 6�11. (Apr.)
Children's Literature - Leona Illig
The story of Bill Traylor, one of the best self-taught American folk artists, is so unusual that it could easily qualify as fiction. But it is all true. An enslaved boy raised on an Alabama cotton farm, Traylor witnessed the end of slavery, but not of hardship or poverty. He stayed on the farm, working and raising his own family, until 1935, when he was 81 years old and living alone. He moved to Montgomery, Alabama, and only then did he begin drawing on the backs of discarded bags, signs, and cardboard boxes. With the aid and encouragement of a number of people, chief among them an artist named Charles Shannon, his work began to receive the attention that it deserved. Today, his drawings, as well as the story of his life, are legendary. The text in this book is simple, but the meaning behind the words is profound. The author deals with the subjects of slavery and poverty economically and effectively, with no diminishment of the tragic consequences of either. He also uses a lyrical refrain throughout the book that keeps the story, and the reader, moving through Traylor's life. The illustrations are gorgeous, a mix of bold and subtle colors, some of which are so life-like that they seem to have been freshly painted. There is an afterward about Traylor's life and career, with a photograph of the artist, and a reproduction of one of Traylor's drawings at the end of the book. While the illustrator of this book does an excellent job conveying the kind of drawings that Traylor did, one wonders why more of Traylor's own work was not included. This book is meticulously researched, and does a faithful and inspiring job recreating the life and work of this exceptional man and artist. Reviewer: Leona Illig
School Library Journal
Gr 3�5—This picture-book biography relates events in the life of an artist who started drawing at the age of 85. As a young boy, Traylor picked cotton. His enslaved family survived the aftermath of the Civil War and he worked a farm, all the while recording memories of his family around him, the animals and their antics, and the gatherings within his community. He bravely left his farm at the age of 81 and tried to find work in Montgomery. At the nadir of his life there—unemployed, tired, and lonely—he began to experiment with drawing as he sat quietly on the street. At first he worked only in pencil, but his artist friend Charles Shannon introduced him to paint and he began to develop signature folk images drawn from his past. Using "deep blues, bright reds, sunny yellows, and earth browns…paint straight from the jar and rarely mixed," Traylor captured animals and people from his past in an imaginative and humorous manner. With a warm palette of browns, reds, yellows, and darker tones, Christie echoes the sharp contrasts and simple line of the subject's work; readers are only given a glimpse of Traylor's images. However, the story of this man's life is an introduction to a noted American folk artist of the 20th century, and a refreshing reminder that artistic talent is not limited by age or formal training.—Mary Elam, Learning Media Services, Plano ISD, TX
Kirkus Reviews
Tate and Christie capture the spirit behind the work of Bill Traylor, "one of the most important self-taught American folk artists of the twentieth century." Traylor went from slavery to sharecropping to raising his family in rural Alabama. In his early 80s, having outlived his family, he moved to Montgomery, sleeping on sidewalks and in doorways and alleys. In his loneliness, he dwelt upon "the saved-up memories of earlier times," and, with the sidewalk as his studio, began drawing. He drew cats, cups, snakes, birds and what he saw around him in Montgomery: the blacksmith's shop, people walking dogs, men in tall hats and women in long dresses. Christie must feel himself a kindred spirit to Bill Traylor, his acrylic and gouache illustrations sharing Traylor's palette of rich color, whimsical humor and sense of play with the human form. In his debut as a picture-book author, Tate crafts prose that is clear and specific, the lively text sometimes surrounded by playful figures cavorting off the pages as Traylor draws them. Though an author's note is provided, an artist's note would have been welcome. An important picture-book biography that lovingly introduces this "outsider" artist to a new generation. (source notes, afterword) (Picture book/biography. 6-11)

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Product Details

Lee & Low Books, Inc.
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
8.70(w) x 10.80(h) x 0.50(d)
830L (what's this?)
Age Range:
8 Years

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