Mose Tolliver was the youngest of twelve children born to tenant farmers outside of Montgomery, Alabama. His exact year of birth was not recorded at the time, but most attribute it to 1919. Mose was one of the original folk artists whose work was featured in the 1982 exhibition of Black American Folk Art at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C. He suffered a stroke in 2001 and spent the next several years in poor health. He died in October 2006 in Montgomery.
It was an on the job accident that perhaps influenced Mose to paint. At McLendon Furniture in the 1960’s, his legs were crushed by a container of falling marble. His former boss encouraged him to take up a hobby, and it was then that Tolliver chose painting. He painted mostly with exterior house paint, with three to four cans open at a time, and not replaced until empty. He set up his painting area in his bedroom, and due to his physical condition, he painted on his lap instead of an easel.
He frequently used soda or beer can tops as hangers on his work. Discarded wood, tin, old furniture and other scrap materials were all surfaces that Mose painted on. Some of his favorite subjects were cats, gardening, self portraits (with double canes to help him walk), and the provocative “bicycle girl.” He influenced at least two of his children to paint also, Annie and Charles.
His work is collected by museums across the country as well as being in corporate and private collections. He is recognized as one of the pillars of folk art.