Mose Tolliver at his home in Alabama, 2002
July 4, 1918-20|
Pike Road, Alabama
October 30, 2006|
Moses Ernest Tolliver (July 4, 1918-20 – October 30, 2006) was an African-American folk artist who became disabled as an adult. He was known as "Mose T", after the signature on his paintings, signed with a backwards "s".
Tolliver was born one of 12 children to sharecroppers Ike and Laney Tolliver in the Pike Road community, near Montgomery, Alabama. His exact year of birth is unknown, though it is known he was born on the Fourth of July. He attended school only until the third grade due to a self-described lack of interest in education. In the 1930s, the family moved to Montgomery, Alabama where he helped support his parents and their large family by doing odd jobs.
In the early 1940s he married his childhood friend, Willie Mae Thomas, and had 13 children, 11 of whom survived to adulthood. During the late 1960s, after a severe injury (his legs were crushed when a load of marble shifted and fell from a forklift as he was sweeping in the furniture factory), he turned to painting to combat boredom, pain and long hours of idle time. Tolliver was likely dyslexic, which may have encouraged his artistic efforts by limiting his reading and writing abilities. He would often turn his paintings upside-down and paint the picture of perhaps an animal and landscape positioned from various directions. Tolliver's titles are wildly divergent; e.g., "Smoke Charlies", "Scopper Bugs" or "Jick Jack Suzy Satisfying her own Self".
Tolliver was self-taught and signed his work, "Mose T" with a backward "s". He regularly worked with "pure house paint" on plywood, creating whimsical and sometimes erotic pictures of animals, humans, and flora. His familiar themes also included watermelons and birds. Tolliver's painting style is referred to as flat, full frontal or straight profile with a muted palette. A "Quail Bird" may glide over a cotton field, or a spread-leg "Diana" or "Moose Lady" may be straddled over an exercise bicycle rack. Never able to walk well following his injury, he painted many self portraits with crutches or would sit on his bed and balance whatever surface he was painting on, on his knees. Tolliver's themes were drawn from his own experience.
Tolliver's work has been exhibited in the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC, and at the Philadelphia College of Art, Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, and the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Relatives of Tolliver have imitated his style and signed their work as he did, making it sometimes difficult for collectors to find an original painting.
Mose Tolliver is part of numerous permanent folk art collections including:
Smithsonian's National Museum of American Art
Many folk art exhibitions show Mose Tolliver works including:
Retrospective, American Folk Art Museum, New York, NY
Passionate Visions of the American South, New Orleans, LA
- "Mose Tolliver, Folk Painter of Outsider Art, Is Dead" The New York Times (November 3, 2006). Retrieved June 13, 2011
- United States Social Security Death Index: Mose E Tolliver
- "Mose Tolliver | Encyclopedia of Alabama". Encyclopedia of Alabama. Retrieved 2017-09-21.
- Mose Tolliver Encyclopedia of Alabama. Retrieved June 13, 2011
- Frank, Priscilla (2015-04-07). "How An Alabama Handyman Became One Of America's Most Beloved Outsider Artists". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2017-09-21.
- "Mose Tolliver". Smithsonian American Art Museum. Retrieved 2017-09-21.
- "Southern Visionary Art: Folk Art Online Gallery". www.southernvisionaryart.com. Retrieved 2017-09-21.