Mose Tolliver

Mose Tolliver was born one of twelve children in the early 20th century (his exact birth year is unknown) to a family of sharecroppers near Montgomery, Alabama. Tolliver left school after the third grade, and would later marry his childhood friend Willie Mae Thomas. Although many sources attest that Tolliver took up painting after a factory accident in the 1960s left him injured, Tolliver himself explained to William Arnett that, “Peoples say I first painted when I hurt my feet, but I painted way before that.”

Tolliver began his forays into art as a teenager, after being inspired by a neighbor who gathered and painted tree stumps. He began to do the same; washing, drying, and painting stumps and root masses: “Paint on a root, it bring life to it,” he once recalled. He also painted many landscapes, and incorporated a wide variety of materials into his works, including cow bones. After being injured on the job and having decreased mobility, Tolliver began to paint on sheets of wood and might make up to ten paintings a day. Drawing from his own experience and rendering in a singular, flat style, his most frequent subjects were fantastical animals, flora, human figures, and self-portraits.

Tolliver would sometimes hang works in his yard to sell for a few dollars, and he attracted the attention of Montgomery artist Anton Haardt as well as former curator of the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA), Mitchell Kahan. Haardt and Kahan helped Tolliver arrange his 1981 exhibition at the MMFA, and the following year his works were shown in Black Folk Art in America, 1930-1980 at the Corcoran Gallery. This early recognition of his work helped launch Tolliver to becoming one of the most celebrated self-taught American artists today. His works are held in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian National Museum of Art, the Centre Pompidou, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and the High Museum of Art, among others.

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