Born April 16, 1918, in Petersburg, Va., little is known about Traylor’s early life, though it’s suggested that he didn’t hail from an artistic household or beginnings. His father was an electrician, who moved the family to Los Angeles in the early 1930s, where Traylor began his adult life working in positions ranging from grocery clerk and gas attendant, to highway worker. Although it is assumed that he always practiced or studied art in some capacity, the first recordings appear at age 19, in 1937, when he served as a sho-card artist, and again in 1940, when he served as assistant to the art director for Los Angeles City College, where he graduated with honors. Following his service amid WWII as an aviation radio operator, Traylor was invited to study at Ecole de Beaux Arts in Paris, which he did under the G.I. Bill. He also attended Chouinard Art Institute and Jepson Art Institute, both in Los Angeles. At Jepson, he served as the personal assistant to the famous, mid-century artist, Rico Lebrun, where he earned Lebrun’s respect so greatly that, in 1950, he was asked to help finish one of his famous works: The Crucifixion. During the 1950s, Traylor worked for Northrop Aviation, as well as a number of nationally distributed comic strips, including Ella Cinders, Napoleon and Tarzan, and also produced illustrations for The New Yorker.
Traylor’s more-than-50-year career is filled with countless awards and honors, more than 30 exhibits and numerous private collections. About the only thing he enjoyed as much as art may have been teaching, which he did in both private and scholastic capacities. Left sterile by the radioactive effects associated with his service as a radio operator, teaching may have been Traylor’s way of parenting, as his students say he approached teaching with the patience and care of a father figure, often combining his teaching with subtle, but invaluable life lessons. He taught at Jepson Art Institute in Los Angeles, as well as the Holden School of Fine and Applied Arts in Charlottesville, Va., after relocating there in 1960. In 1965, he and his wife, Maxine, opened The Virginia Art Institute, which they ran until 1975, before relocating to Oregon where they lived out the remainder of their lives.
Traylor was a modest man who never self-promoted or touted his own work. Instead, he hoped that his art would end up in museums and institutions, where it could be useful for instructing. In his final years, he suffered from Parkinson’s disease, which took away his ability to hold a brush, but for some time he continued painting using only a palette knife and his fingers. Those who knew him well say that once his ability to paint was gone, Traylor found no reason to press on. He died April 28, 1996, of natural causes.