CRN Auctions to sell recently uncovered works by former slave Bill Traylor.

  • CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts
  • /
  • September 05, 2017

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Drawings by ex-slave Bill Traylor (American, 1854-1949) and ceramics by Karel Appel (Dutch, 1921-2006)

     On Sunday, September 10th at 11 a.m. CRN Auctions will be conducting its annual September auction in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

   The sale will be the usual CRN eclectic mix of American, English, European, Asian and Latin American works of art, furniture, and decorative accessories including a large private collection of American and English silver. CRN conducts only three sales annually, which gives time to selectively collect a variety of objects from primarily New England homes and collectors.

   Auction coordinator and partner, Karin Phillips, stated, “We are very excited to have two works by artist Bill Traylor. As any antiques dealer knows, it is the possibility of uncovering a treasure that keeps one going in this business.”

   Traylor (1854-1949) was born into slavery on the George Traylor farm in Benton, Alabama. Following the Emancipation in 1863, Traylor remained on the property working as a farmer for George, and later for his son. He spent a total of fifty six years working for the Traylors. He married and had nine children. It wasn’t until 1910 that Traylor left and moved to Montgomery, Alabama. Traylor was quoted saying, “My white folks had died and my children scattered.”  

     There he worked for a time in a shoe factory until arthritis got the best of him. After that he became homeless, yet his spirit was indomitable. At the age of 82 he started drawing, seated on a box on Monore Street near the fish and produce markets in downtown Montgomery where he sold his works for pennies. His drew on found cardboard and paper. A young white artist and social activist, Charles Shannon (d. 1996) noticed Traylor and was awed by his art which was unique and simply expressive, unaffected by anything but his own experiences. Shannon supplied Traylor with materials, purchased the artist’s works, and set up exhibits of Traylor’s art, the first in Montgomery in 1939. Although nothing sold, Shannon did not lose his enthusiasm for Traylor’s work. In 1942, Shannon brought Traylor’s art to New York. The director of New York Museum of Modern Art , Alfred Barr, purchased several works for a few dollars from the curator of the exhibit, not through Shannon, for his own collection and for the museum. Upon learning of the private deal, Shannon returned Barr’s money, kept the works, and returned to Montgomery. When Shannon went off to war in the South Pacific, Bill Traylor moved about, staying with his scattered children. During this time his leg was amputated due to gangrene. He died in a nursing home in Montgomery in 1949.

An extensive private collection of American and English silver, pictured 4-piece coin silver tea set by Cann & Dunn

     Shannon did not exhibit his collection of between 1500 to 2000 of Traylor’s works again in New York until 1972. Interest in Traylor’s work was finally and slowly developing. Between 1972 and 1992, there were approximately 29 solo and 86 group exhibitions.

     It was in the 1970’s that the two works being sold by CRN Auctions, were acquired by Ed Giorandino, a Nassau County, Long Island resident and staff photographer for the New York Daily News from the 1940’s to the 1980’s. In 1957 the Pulizter Prize for photography was awarded to the photographers of the News. Mr. Giorandino was again twice nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for photography. He retired in the early 1980’s. Still in his mid-sixties, he died shortly after retiring.

   Well liked, and his work highly admired, Mr. Giorandino frequently attended art openings and celebrity parties during the 1960’s and 70’s. An artist himself, he was acquainted with artists of the era, including Andy Warhol. Still in the Giorandino family is a personalized sketch Warhol gave to Mr. Giorandino.

   Ed Giorandino’s son Frank (b. 1938), also a staff photographer at the New York Daily News, inherited the Traylors in the early 1980’s. Unaware of the rising value of Traylor’s work, the works were tucked away, unframed and forgotten.

Fine Philadelphia Chippendale mahogany serpentine chest. Circa 1785, attrib. Jonathan Gostelowe.

     Upon Frank’s death in 2015, his widow re-discovered the Traylors and, still in their manila envelope, brought them to Leslie Paisley, noted paper conservator and folk art expert at the Massachusetts Williamstown Conservation Center. Ms. Paisley had catalogued several Traylors for the High Museum in Atlanta, Georgia; and is co-author, along with Susan Crawley, of chapters in the book “Bill Traylor Drawings from the Collections of the High Museum of Art and the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts”. Her conclusion was that they were works definitely created by Bill Traylor.

   Painting conservator at the Williamstown Art Conservation Center, Michael Heslip, said the materials and the mediums were of the proper period, and “the smell of the paper alone tells you they are real.”

   For line internet bidding go to: LiveAuctioneers. CRN has added BidSquare as an alternate provider for internet bidding for this sale.

   Auction information and the online catalogue can be viewed at

CRN Auctions, Inc.
57 Bay State Rd.
Cambridge, Massachusetts
About CRN Auctions, Inc.

Established in 1975, auctioneers of fine American, European and Asian furniture, art and accessories

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