The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts announced today the gift of nine captivating works on paper created with paint, graphite and colored pencils by the iconic African American artist Bill Traylor. This generous donation is from the collection of B.K. Fulton and Jackie Stone.

“These two groups of artworks are significant additions to VMFA’s collection,” said Alex Nyerges, VMFA’s Director and CEO. “We are striving to expand the museum’s collection of art by African Americans, and Traylor’s work documents the Black experience in the South. We are appreciative of these invaluable additions.”

Bill Traylor was born into slavery in Benton, Alabama in 1853 and spent much of his post-emancipation life as a sharecropper on a plantation. He moved to Montgomery, Alabama in 1928 where at the age of 85, he began creating abstract, stylized drawings of people in his community and of recollections of his past experiences using materials at hand — crayons and paint on discarded cardboard and poster paper. Traylor told unique and complex visual stories through silhouetted figures, animals, plants and symbols. The artist was prolific, producing nearly 1,500 works between 1939 and 1942.

“I am delighted to be able to donate these significant works of art to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts,” said B.K. Fulton. “My hope is they will shed new light and add more content to our interpretations of the African American South.”

Works from the two series, Dance and Nothin’ to Somethin’ – Freedom, will be on view in VMFA’s upcoming exhibition The Dirty South: Contemporary Art, Material Culture, and the Sonic Impulse. “Traylor is an iconic artist whose works provide a glimpse into the African American South of his day. The multimedia works have their own visual tonality that pulsates with a vibrant energy. They are significant additions to VMFA’s collection,” said exhibition organizer Valerie Cassel Oliver, VMFA’s Sydney and Frances Lewis Family Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art. “This collection of art will also serve as foundational markers that show the influences of such artists in the capturing and shaping of Black southern sensibilities.”

On view from May 22 to September 6, 2021, The Dirty South explores the aesthetic legacies and traditions of Black culture in the African American South as seen through the lens of contemporary Black musical expression. With more than 140 works of art, the exhibition features an intergenerational group of artists working in a variety of genres from sculpture, painting and drawing to photography and film as well as sound pieces and large-scale installation works.

VR Sunil Gohil