Mose Tolliver was one of 12 children born to a sharecropping family near Montgomery, Alabama. He was married to Willie Mae Thomas for over forty years. They had 13 children. He began painting in the 1960’s sometime after his legs were crushed by a slab of marble that fell from a fork lift in a furniture factory where he worked. Early on, he hung his paintings on trees in the front yard of his home and sold them for a few dollars to passersby.
I visited Tolliver twice a year throughout the 1990’s. He was one of the most accessible artists of the period. He was a great storyteller. He had a distinctive heavy drawl, an easy manner, and endearing sense of humor. Tolliver welcomed visitors into his bedroom studio, a converted main floor living room of a large historic home in downtown Montgomery. His art hung on the walls. He often painted while sitting on his bed, with family, friends, and strangers coming and going about him.
Tolliver's paintings share much of the same character and perspective as Bill Traylor's drawings. Both had their work featured in the exhibition, Black Folk Art in America: 1930-1980 at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in 1982. Their artistic similarities may come from shared experience and sensibility. Tolliver told me that he saw Traylor draw on Monroe Avenue in Montgomery around 1940.
Tolliver's paintings depict animals, people and plants in flat perspective, stylistically refined as elementary shapes and symbols. Like Traylor, he occasionally painted scenes with multiple figures interacting around an abstract, minimalist framework, such as a house or tree. The unusual textures and dimensions of found boards, plywood, Masonite, and siding complimented his compositions. Tolliver created a large, distinct, yet uneven body of work over the course of forty years.
His art is in many museum collections, including the American Folk Art Museum, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the High Museum of Art, the Milwaukee Art Museum, and the New Orleans Museum of Art.
George Jacobs Self-Taught Art
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