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Bill Traylor was born a slave in 1853, on the George Traylor family’s plantation in Benton, Alabama.  Following Emancipation, Bill Traylor continued to work for George Traylor and later for his son, Marion Traylor, as a farm laborer and then as a tenant farmer. In 1910, after 56 years, Bill Traylor left the George Traylor plantation and moved to Montgomery County where he continued to farm for another 17 years.  By 1928, at age 74, Bill Traylor had moved to the city of Montgomery, where he briefly worked in a shoe factory until he became crippled by arthritis.  In 1936, homeless and on relief, Bill Traylor was sleeping in the back room of a funeral parlor in downtown Montgomery.

In 1939, Charles Shannon, an aspiring young artist, encountered the 85-year-old Bill Traylor, seated in front of a blacksmith shop on Monroe Street in Montgomery, Alabama.  He describes Traylor as having a pencil stub in hand and appearing to be drawing for the first time.  Intrigued, Shannon provided Traylor with encouragement and art supplies over the following three years.  During this period, Shannon purchased, for modest prices, over 1200 works from Traylor.

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