BAIA BITS: William Tolliver


Little Moments Where Knowledge Meets Art

In 1983, Mississippi-born painter, William Tolliver, walked into Live Oak Gallery in Lafayette, Louisiana with one of his works. Times were hard and the anxious Tolliver wished to support his struggling, growing family with his art given the loss of carpentry jobs within the depressed local economy.  Gallery owner and director, Bob Crutchfield, recounts the encounter in a passage at the Galerie Royale, Ltd. site:

He set it on the floor and backed up to see what we [Crutchfield and gallery director Michael Conway] thought. Neither of us said anything. We were filled with awe. William reached over to pick the painting up, and started to leave, saying ‘I knew you wouldn’t like it.’ Both of us screamed in unison, ‘Leave it alone!’ That same painting sold and the owners have been offered something like 15 times what they paid for it.”

Crutchfield goes on to characterize Tolliver as the most talented and versatile artist he ever worked with, a master of impressionistic landscape, figurative study, and abstract with “a complete mastery of color harmony and design.”

Born in 1951 in Vicksburg, Mississippi, Tolliver was heavily influenced by his artistic mother who showed him art books and held drawing contests between him, his brother, and herself. Given his local schools did not have art teachers, Tolliver practiced and learned how to paint by himself initially using oil pastels and the watercolor sets he bought from dime stores after mowing lawns. The talented youth also taught himself how to mix and blend paints using paint-by-number sets.



Despite his apparent skill, Tolliver put his talent on the backburner upon dropping out of school and moving to Los Angeles. After signing up with the Job Corps and learning carpentry, he eventually found his way back to Mississippi where he did construction by day and painted by night. By the late 1970s, Tolliver was married with children and relocated to Louisiana in search of carpentry jobs. After his storied encounter with Crutchfield, Tolliver’s career as an artist took off and he regularly spent 15-hour days painting, something his grueling construction work had prepared him for. Success came from his routine, and after working on a painting for months, he would return home to Vicksburg to relax, refresh, and put life in perspective.

William Tolliver died in 2000. His art is collected worldwide. Tolliver once offered the following for those youth tracing his footsteps: “I would urge an art student to go to school and learn the fundamentals, because to know the fundamentals is to know the technical aspects of blending colors.”

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