Well over three decades ago, Mose Tolliver
was injured on the job as a load of marble fell on his legs – crushing them. To “clear his head”,
Mose began to paint a variety of subjects with the hopes of selling his works for a few dollars or trading them for food.
One may call that the end…but this hobby became the beginning of so much more.
Anton Haardt, an artist, photographer and
author – as well as an inspiration too many in and out of the art world – forged a friendship with Mose Tolliver.
To help him out she began to show his art to larger galleries. She would try to sell his art work for twenty-five dollars
or more as opposed to the one or two dollars that he would normally accept. In 1982, his work was displayed at the Corcoran
Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. At the “Black Folk Art in America 1930-1980” Exhibition. Critics
questioned if his art was actually Art...due to the fact that it was so different. Regardless of the initial reaction
by the “Art World”, his work soon developed a market and the demand and value of his work increased. His
unconventional style stretched the boundaries of folk art at that time, but soon after and today, his work is respected and
purchased by people from all walks of life. Today, he is the last surviving artist from the Corcoran Exhibition.
This is a quote highlighted in “MoseT
A to Z: The Folk Art of Mose Tolliver.”
“I just think of something I want
to paint and I’ll try it and I’ll keep working until it looks all right to me, then if someone buys it –
it must be all right.”
The world has spoken and his work exceeds
“all right.” His use of unconventional media such as house paint on wood eliminates the option of hiding
bad art under exciting and expensive materials. His artwork is true and pure and sought after by a diverse audience.
Who pay what some would pay for works by more famous artists. He used to sell paintings for a few dollars, but now that
has escalated to thousands of dollars. He is a true inspiration to budding artists, causing them to persevere and never
give up the part of their own “selves” that they paint – regardless of the critics!
Anton Haardt does an excellent job of explaining
in her book the ideas behind Mose’s work in his own words. Each painting means something to him and he tries to
paint that thought or idea in its purest form. Some of his paintings are done in rich earth tones, causing the subject
matter to outweigh the media. Other works have some sexual overtones – but it is handled with charisma and not
overdone. He draws inspiration from family members or children playing outside. His paintings have unique titles
such as French Magnolia Lily, Hatching Bird House and Jimma Jamma Girl (use your imagination)! These unique paintings have
unique stories and that is a part of the reason for their acceptance and appeal. A lot of his works are various self portraits
as he draws from himself for inspiration – either way, when you see a “MoseT” with the signature reverse
“S” applied, you know that it was either painted by him – or signed by him.
Pick up a copy of “MoseT A to Z:
The Folk Art of Mose Tolliver” today and discover the work of a true artist who’s transition from obscurity to
fame has been documented by his friend of 35 years. I must thank Anton Haardt for sharing Mose’s story with us.
It’s an excellent story and excellent journal of an amazing artist who will see fame in his own lifetime after a disaster
that caused him to pick up a paintbrush – and share his inner thoughts with us.
Tyrone V. Banks