The Houston Museum of African American Culture (HMAAC) is delighted to present from July 23 through October 9, 2021 A Beautiful Portrait of Southern American Life: Remembering William Tolliver, an exhibition of the late artist’s work culled from his Estate. 

The late William Tolliver (1951-2000) is internationally recognized for his powerful and emotionally moving impressionistic landscapes, figurative studies, sculptures and abstract pieces. The Vicksburg, Mississippi native’s art is drawn from the culturally relevant Mississippi Delta, an historically rich area presented in oral and written histories and manifested through art, music, and literature depicting the resilience and vibrancy of African Americans in the South.

By age eight Tolliver began copying the detailed works of High Renaissance artists such as Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci and Dutch painters Rubens and Rembrandt. His astute power of observation led him to study subjects from books, black-and-white photographs, nature, comics, and family members who posed as models. Early in his career as an artist Tolliver developed a style that is both versatile and refreshingly exuberant. It is a style where inspiration comes from the fabric of Southern life. Jazz, Blues, history, and beauty each have a revered place in the palette of William Tolliver. What may seem commonplace on the surface found brilliance and light at the hand of this unequivocal master. 

In a time when the rules of art were either abandoned in favor of an anti-formalist attitude or were institutionalized in academic study, William Tolliver emerged as a brilliant self-taught artist—a Mississippi-born Renaissance man whose creative intelligence combined the study of formal structure with an innate sense of human observation. Far from the marketplace of the New York City art world, Tolliver arose during the mid-1980s as a brilliant regional talent, an individual impelled by a desire to capture the landscapes and people of his native deep South. Whether dealing with everyday workers or back-alley jazzmen, he conveys a universal message through scenes of the common human experience. Equally important to Tolliver is his concern for thematic content. He stresses that art is a means for documenting one’s history. 

In the late 1980s, the artist’s abstract-style paintings were shown at museum collections and exhibitions, including the Contemporary Art Center of New Orleans, the New Orleans Museum of Art, and the U.S. Senate Building in Washington, D.C. and became part of private collections of celebrities including Shari Belafonte, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Richard Pryor, Cecily Tyson, David Winfield, and Ellis Marsalis. Tolliver also completed a promotional poster for the 1996 Olympics held in Atlanta, Georgia. 

According to Exhibition Consultant Kathleen Coleman of FAME (Film, Art, Music,  Entertainment) “Tolliver never received any formal training; however, his mastery of color harmony and design earned him a place among America’s most renowned artists.” Added HMAAC CEO and Exhibition Curator John Guess, Jr., “Remembering William Tolliver recognizes the work of a Master capturing Southern life and introduces Tolliver to a wider Houston audience.” Eric Jones of the William Tolliver Estate indicated “The Estate appreciates the Houston Museum of African American Culture’s decision to show this work and give long overdue recognition to a great artist.”

A Beautiful Portrait of Southern American Life: Remembering William Tolliver  is generously sponsored by the Houston Endowment, HEB, Francis Page, John Green. Attorney at Law CPA and the Board of Directors of the Houston Museum of African American Culture. 


The mission of HMAAC is to collect, conserve, explore, interpret, and exhibit the material and intellectual culture of Africans and African Americans in Houston, the state of Texas, the southwest and the African Diaspora for current and future generations. In fulfilling its mission, HMAAC seeks to invite and engage visitors of every race and background and to inspire children of all ages through discovery-driven learning. HMAAC is to be a museum for all people. While our focus is the African American experience, our story informs and includes not only people of color, but people of all colors. As a result, the stories and exhibitions that HMAAC will bring to Texas are about the indisputable fact that while our experience is a unique one, it has been impacted by and has impacted numerous races, genders and ethnicities. The museum continues to be a space where a multicultural conversation on race geared toward a common future takes place.