Mose Tolliver (Winter 1995)

Born approx 1910
Lives Montgomery Alabama

Mose worked a variety of jobs throughout his life, as a gardener and general handyman. While sweeping up for a furniture company in the early 1970's, a load of marble fell on Mose's legs, crushing them. While recovering from his injury, and perhaps inspired by an art show his former employer took him to, Mose began to paint. He'd sit in his front yard, painting the neighborhood children, and hanging his paintings in his front yard, hoping to sell them for a dollar or two, or perhaps trade them for a bag of rice to a passerby.
"Dancing Lady" and "Cowboy", both circa 1976
Word spread, and eventually Mose developed a reputation as an artist. In 1982, Mose Tolliver was included in the seminal "Black Folk Art in America 1930-1980" show at the Smithsonian's Corcoran Gallery. This cemented Mose's place as one of the major self-taught artists of the 20th century. Mose is the last surviving artist who participated in this show. Due to a recent downturn in his health, I'm told Mose is no longer painting, although he is doing fairly well, and his family is taking good care of him.
"Drum Beaters"

"Wedding Girl"--Mose's earliest works were painted on cardboard, and hung with dental floss. This is a good example, as is the Baby below.

Mose generally painted in muted colors, and since he didn't wash out his brushes, they often blended together. While his earlier work covered a wide variety of subjects, including narrative paintings of moments from his life, his more recent work seems limited to a set of standard images, including self portraits (both straightforward self portraits with walking sticks, and his "fierce" portraits), a variety of birds and other animals, watermelons, and his famous "erotic" paintings. Despite these standard forms, Mose was a tremendous colorist, and he'd frequently do several versions of the same image, altering the colors of each one to enjoy the variation. Although he did a lot of the standards, the occasional odd piece pops out, like the "Submarine" below. When I purchased it from Mose he said he hadn't done a submarine painting in many years.
Self Portrait (Mose would sometimes save hair from haircuts and strategically apply it to paintings, like this one)
"Moose Lady On Her Exercise Rack" (mid-1980's)
"Fierce" Self-Portrait
On Mose's "Moose Ladies": according to Mose (as told to Marcia Weber), he used to paint neighborhood children on tricycles. Art patrons misinterpreted these paintings, as women impaling themselves on erotic devices. Since Mose thought that was what the buying public wanted, he began painting his "Moose Ladies" with their spread legs and "exercise racks". Mose's erotic imagination knows no bounds, so you'll find some very interesting (to say the least) images in his work.
A Very Early "Moose Lady" (front), "Red Bird" (back) circa 1976


"Baby" (very early work)

Mose painted from his bed, and would put his works on his bedroom wall for sale. He still holds court all day in his busy household, as buyers and family members trek in and out. Collectors should be aware that Mose has always been well known for farming out work to his relatives. They paint many of the paintings, and he signs his name to them and sells them as his own work. If you go see Mose these days, know that he's no longer painting, so everything for sale at his house was really painted by a relative.

You'll even occasionally see works by other folk artists, like Howard Finster or R.A. Miller that people have traded to Mose, and Mose, without a hint of self-consciousness, will sign his name on them and sell them as his own.

Works by Mose's family members can be found in many galleries for sale as Mose T originals, and in many museums. Often art dealers would ask Mose to do specific paintngs as would curators putting together museum shows. Mose hated being told what to paint, so these assignments would go to one of this children, who would then paint the work and turn it over to Mose to be signed.

I've done what I can to put together a page of tips on how to spot a real Mose T painting, but it really takes getting to know his work well, and sometimes, not worrying about it.

"Camel" (someone had traded Mose a Howard Finster cutout camel. He liked the piece, and used it as a guide to create more like it, which he would then paint and sign his name to).
"Wild Chicken" (probably late 1970's / early 1980's)


Annie Tolliver
Hubert Walters