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A stylized mule and a man plowing, against a blank cardboard background

On an irregular, torn rectangular piece of beige cardboard, a mule hitched to a plow and a man following behind it are rendered in bold black shapes with thin, pointed limbs. In the upper left corner of the horizontal piece, the man steps forward, wearing a wide brimmed hat. His left leg curves out ahead of him, and with no apparent background, he almost floats as he holds onto the plow. The mule at lower right is hitched to a thin rig that pulls the plow. Its bridle and harness are a vivid blue, as is the man’s shirt, which contrast with their black forms.

Identification and Creation

Object Number
Bill Traylor, American (Benton, AL c. 1853 - 1949 Montgomery, AL)
Mule and Plow
Work Type
c. 1939-1942
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Opaque watercolor and graphite on paper-faced board
irregular: 38.6 × 65.7 cm (15 3/16 × 25 7/8 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • label: Removed from mat board: New Orleans Museum of Art / Passionate Visions / of the American South / Self-Taught Artists from / 1940 to the present / October 23, 1993 through January 30, 1994
  • label: Removed from mat board: Bill Traylor / Maun with Mule Plowing, n.d. / poster paint and pnecil on cardboard / 15 x 25 1/4 (38.1 x 64.77) / Collection of Didi and David Barrett / Catalog No: 249 / Plate No 39 / Crate #: 24
  • label: yellow tag, removed from verso: PV#249 / "Man with Mule..." / Traylor / Cate 24 / P1.39
  • inscription: On verso, u.r., in graphite: Isack / 28
  • inscription: On verso, u.r., on white label, inscribed in black ink: B-123XL (HORSE-MAN) / PLOWING IN BLUE / AND BLACK
  • inscription: On verso, l.r., on white label, inscribed in black ink: H-121 / PLOWING


Recorded Ownership History
[Carl Hammer Gallery, Chicago, IL], sold; to Didi and David Barrett (October, 1984-2011), gift; to the Harvard Art Museums, 2011.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Collection of Didi & David Barrett ‘71
© Bill Traylor Family Trust
Accession Year
Object Number
European and American Art

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Publication History

  • Alice Rae Yelen, Passionate Visions of the American South, exh. cat., New Orleans Museum of Art and University Press of Mississippi (New Orleans, 1993), p. 113, pl. 39, ill.; p. 344, cat. 249.
  • Valerie Rousseau and Debra Purden, Bill Traylor, American Folk Art Museum and 5 Continents Press (New York, Milan, 2018), p. 158, ill. (color)
  • Timothy Standring, [Review] "American Watercolors, 1880-1990: Into the Light", The Burlington Magazine (August 2023), 165, pp. 908-911, p. 910
  • Joachim Homann, Margaret Morgan Grasselli, and Miriam Stewart, ed., American Watercolors, 1880–1990: Into the Light, exh. cat., Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, 2023), repr. as pl. 45 on p. 114

Exhibition History

Verification Level

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