Profile: Moses Ernest Tolliver (1918-2006

Moses Ernest Tolliver was an American artist. He was known as “Mose T”, after the signature on his paintings, signed with a backwards “s


Tolliver was born one of 12 children to sharecroppers Ike and Laney Tolliver in the Pike Road community, near Montgomery, Alabama. His exact year of birth is unknown, though it is known he was born on the Fourth of July. He attended school only until the third grade due to a self-described lack of interest in education. In the 1930s, the family moved to Montgomery, Alabama where he helped support his parents and their large family by doing odd jobs.

In the early 1940s he married his childhood friend, Willie Mae Thomas, and had 13 children, 11 of whom survived to adulthood. During the late 1960s, after a severe injury (his legs were crushed when a load of marble shifted and fell from a forklift as he was sweeping in the furniture factory), he turned to painting to combat boredom, pain and long hours of idle time. He would often turn his paintings upside-down and paint the picture of perhaps an animal and landscape positioned from various directions. Tolliver’s titles are wildly divergent; e.g., “Smoke Charlies”, “Scopper Bugs” or “Jick Jack Suzy Satisfying her own Self”.

Tolliver died from pneumonia at age 82 on October 30, 2006, in Montgomery, Alabama.


Tolliver signed his work, “Mose T” with a backward “s”. He regularly worked with “pure house paint” on plywood, creating whimsical and sometimes erotic pictures of animals, humans, and flora. His familiar themes also included watermelons and birds. Tolliver’s painting style is referred to as flat, full frontal or straight profile with a muted palette. A “Quail Bird” may glide over a cotton field, or a spread-leg “Diana” or “Moose Lady” may be straddled over an exercise bicycle rack. Never able to walk well following his injury, he painted many self portraits with crutches or would sit on his bed and balance whatever surface he was painting on, on his knees. Tolliver’s themes were drawn from his own experience.

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