You are here : Mose Tolliver
ca. 1920 - 2006, Alabama, USA
Moses Tolliver was born near Montgomery, Alabama, around 1920, though the exact year is not known. He was one of twelve children of two sharecroppers, attending school until grade three before working as a truck farmer, gardener, house painter and general handy man. Tolliver worked on and off for McLendon's furniture company, and it was here in the late 1960s that a crate fell on his ankle, damaging the muscles and tendons to such an extent he was unable to walk without assistance from this point on.
Tolliver occasionally painted before the accident, but afterwards he had more time to devote to his art and it became a routine activity and important part of his rehabilitation. His former employer Raymond McLendon offered to pay for painting lessons, but Tolliver declined, preferring to develop his existing, self taught techniques. He painted on any surface to hand, including Masonite, board remnants, metal trays and old pieces of discarded furniture. Ring pull tabs from beer and soft drink cans were attached to the back of the works to hang them from. He initially used house paint before moving to water-based latex. Most works only incorporated one or two colours from cans at hand, usually in bright colours applied in a single even layer.
Tolliver started painting flowers, trees and birds, subjects familiar from his time as a gardener, and then moved on to include other animals and people, including pictures of his wife and self portraits with crutches. Some of his pieces are erotic, such as the popular 'moose lady' works, which feature the figure of a woman with her legs spread. Tolliver painted subjects that were familiar to his everyday life, but their titles are fanciful, for example 'French Owl Half People' or 'Moose Lady with a Gentleman Named Charlie Bailey. He Told Her He Wanted to Talk to Her and She Told Him He Could Talk All He Wants To.' Such titles display Tolliver's sense of humour and fun.
Tolliver initially sold his paintings from his front porch, offering them to anyone who admired them. One such fan was Mitchell Kahan, a former curator at the Montgomery Museum of Art. This same institution held a solo exhibition of Tolliver's works in 1981, and the following year he was included in the exhibition ' Black Folk Art and America' at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. These two exhibitions brought Tolliver's work to national prominence, and since then his work has also been shown at the American Folk Museum, New York; The High Museum of Art, Atlanta; The New Orleans Museum of Art; the Milwaukee Art Museum and the American Visionary Art Museum, Baltimore.
Tolliver painted at a steady rate, working on a number of works per day at his bedside table until he had a stroke in 2005. He remained at home under the care of his daughters until dying of pneumonia in October 2006. Three of Tolliver's eleven surviving children are today recognised artists in their own right.