It Jes' Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw

It Jes' Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw
Co-Authors / Illustrators
Age Range
Release Date
April 30, 2012
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As an enslaved boy on an Alabama farm in the early 1860s, Bill Traylor worked in the hot cotton fields. After slavery ended, Bill's family stayed on the land as sharecroppers.

By the time he was 79, Bill was all alone in the world. Lonely, poor and eventually homeless, he wandered the downtown streets of Montgomery, Alabama. But deep within himself Bill had a reservoir of memories of his lifetime spent on the land. When he was 83 years old, these memories blossomed into pictures. Bill began to draw people and places from his earlier life, as well as scenes from the busy city around him. Today, Bill Traylor is considered one of the most important American self-taught artists.

Editor review

1 review
Letting art happen
(Updated: May 02, 2012)
Overall rating
Plot/Characters/Writing Style
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
There’s something especially intriguing about picture books that focus on an artist. Picture books ought to be intensely visual, rewarding in both word and image – and when the illustrator is given the expanded license to explore not just the experiential world, but the creative world of another artist, well, magical things can happen. Think of Linnea in Monet’s Garden, for example.

So it is with IT JES’ HAPPENED, a biography of folk artist Bill Traylor, an ex-slave living in Alabama who one day just started drawing – at the age of 85. Don Tate creates a beautiful narrative of a man who held within himself all the pictures and images of a long, full life, and you get the sense that one day, the pictures just spilled over. And Bill Traylor started drawing, with whatever and on whatever came to hand. Illustrator R. Gregory Christie alludes to both the energy and simplicity of Bill Traylor's art in his marvelously vibrant, purposefully 2D illustrations. I especially love Bill Traylor's beard as painted by Christie, the incredible cotton-ball fullness, and the thin, angular limbs, so full of motion and purpose.

This simple – and simply beautiful book – explores Bill Traylor’s life and art, which is reason enough to read it. However, it strikes me it does something else important. It points out that the simple things an ordinary person (or child) observes in the course of an ordinary day are still the stuff of art. That art need not be created in the classroom or in Rome or somewhere with an ocean view. Art can be created right this minute, right here, with whatever you have to hand. You just have to let it happen.
Good Points
Great illustrations
Important story, well told
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