Director Jeffrey Wolf was first introduced to artist Bill Traylor in 1982 in Washington, D.C., at an exhibit called “Black Folk Art in America.”
Since that encounter with Traylor’s work, Wolf said he had long contemplated the work of the cotton plantation slave born in 1853, wanting to unravel and dig deeper into his world.
At 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Capitol Arts Center, viewers will have a chance to see the story of Traylor in Wolf’s film “Bill Traylor: Chasing Ghosts.”
The event is free to attend and is part of the South Arts Film Series at the Capitol.
“ ‘Bill Traylor: Chasing Ghosts’ is a feature documentary film exploring the life of a unique American artist, a man with a remarkable and unlikely biography,” Wolf said. “Bill Traylor was born into slavery in 1853 on a cotton plantation in rural Alabama. Using historical and cultural context, the film is designed to bring the spirit and mystery of Traylor’s incomparable art to life.”
Wolf said Traylor continued to farm the land even after the Civil War was over.
Traylor then moved to Montgomery, Ala., and worked odd jobs, according to Wolf.
“A decade later, in his late ’80s, Traylor became homeless and started to draw and paint, both memories from plantation days and scenes of a radically changing urban culture,” Wolf said. “Traylor devised his own visual language to record the stories of his life, translating an oral culture into something original, powerful and culturally rooted.”
Wolf said Traylor created more than 1,000 drawings and paintings between 1939 and 1942, and that his work was the witness of “profound social and political change during his life spanning slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow segregation and the Great Migration.”
But Wolf said Traylor’s work would not gain traction for decades.
“The transcendent surprise is while Traylor kept to himself leading an unassuming life, he was nurturing a remarkable creative gift that would not be expressed for decades,” Wolf said.
Wolf’s goal with this film is to “broaden our understanding of this period of transformation, a time when black people prospered as business professionals in Montgomery, in spite of living through the fear and volatility of (a) Jim Crow South that impacted daily life.”
– For more information, visit billtraylorchasingghosts.com.