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“My art is the evidence of
my freedom."
      -Thornton Dial

Thornton Dial, (1928-2016) was born in Emelle Alabama. His extended family were all sharecroppers. Dial said he was born in “a little country house in the field, one of them kind you can lay down and look up thru the ceiling and see the sunshine.” Dial was sent to live with relatives in Bessemer, near Birmingham, when he was 13 years old. He could not read or write and was put in the second grade, children made fun of him because he was so big. He rarely attended school.  “I went enough to learn a little bit.  They told me, learn to figure out your money and write your name. That’s as far as a Negro can go.” He worked for 30 years as a metal worker at the Pullman Standard plant which made railroad boxcars.  

Dial is now well know for his scultrures. He would scavenge for cast off materials with which he make assemblages that were often huge. “I like to use the stuff I know about. I’m talking about tin, steel, copper, old wood, carpets, sand, rock, wire, toys. Stuff that I know the feel of. You could say, if Dial see it, he know what to do with it. ”Dial remembered the first thing he ever made when he was, as he called himself, a little old bitty thing. “I hook up a matchbox to two hoppergrasses, tie threads around their neck. I wanted my own mules and wagon.” He never thought of these pieces as art.

Self-taught, working in rural Alabama, Dial was considered a folk artist or an outsider artist. That began to change when, in his fifties, he was introduced to the art historian and collector, Bill Arnett, who then began to champion his work.  Dial began making drawings and paintings. The image of the tiger is one Dial used often. For Dial the tiger is a symbol of fierce strength and tenacity. The tiger stands as a metaphor for himself, but also of black America in general. Implicit in the notion of the tiger is the fight for survival (and here in the US, the struggle for civil rights). Dial said, “That tiger for me symbolized the struggle in the works of life.” The tiger, was a recurring image in Dial’s work from the late 80s through the early nineties.

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Thornton Dial, (1928-2016)

Thornton Dial, (1928-2016)

Thornton Dial, (1928-2016)
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Thornton Dial

Thornton Dial

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LSU Museum of Art installs "I, Too, Am Thornton Dial" exhibit

LSU Museum of Art installs "I, Too, Am Thornton Dial" exhibit

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Don Lemon with Thornton Dial CNN Interview

Don Lemon with Thornton Dial CNN Interview

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