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This self-taught artist was one of the greatest of our time

Thornton Dial, Sr. made great art by putting together materials others throw away. These “found materials” – rope, house paint, wire, oven racks, construction compound, and more – had symbolic meanings taken from their lives as useful objects, and became materials for Dial’s art. Called “assemblages,” these paintings with objects and materials attached were created to express Dial’s thoughts and feelings about social issues like homelessness, inequality in society, and war. Like the title of a PBS Documentary about this self-taught

artist, “Mr. Dial had something to say.”

For decades, Dial did not know that what he was making was “art.” He simply had to communicate his ideas and feelings, and naturally did that by making things. He was driven to create so much art that his family buried it in their backyard to create more space. This was before they knew it was valuable art that would become sought-after by collectors and museums across the country.

Dial left school early to help support his family. He was a factory worker and welder by trade, and made art and furniture after his retirement. A pivotal moment in his career came when Dial met Curator and art dealer William Arnett, who came to Alabama in 1987 to search out self-taught artists. Arnett introduced Dial to the world of art, and brought exhibitions of Dial’s work to galleries and museums.

Today, Thornton Dial, Sr. is considered one of the creative geniuses of his time, and one of the greatest American Artists of the Twentieth Century. Dial’s powerful, expressive assemblages and sculptures have been exhibited and collected by major museums across the country, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art (NY) and the Smithsonian American Art Museum (Washington, DC). His work is included in the Gadsden Arts Center & Museum Permanent Collection thanks to generous contributions from Calynne and Lou Hill.

Accompanying the Thornton Dial, Sr. exhibition is Family and Friends of Thornton Dial, Sr. from the Gadsden Arts Center & Museum Permanent Collection. The exhibition includes work from Thornton Dial, Jr., Arthur Dial, Ronald Lockett, and Lonnie Holley. Each artist had a personal connection to Thornton Dial, Sr. and was inspired by his work.

Both the Thornton Dial, Sr. and Dial Family and Friends exhibitions are presented by Trulieve. Major Exhibitions are made possible by the Impact Fund. While you are here, also see Jacob Lawrence: Three Series of Prints, and four more exhibitions.

You can share the fascinating story and work of Dial, family and friends with your club or group by scheduling a personalized tour of these exhibitions, and free use of our Bates Community Room to order in lunch. “Create your own Event” is free for members, and included with the $5 admission for nonmembers, and can be scheduled by calling (850) 627-5023.

For families, every Saturday is a family day at Gadsden Arts, admission-free, sponsored by Centennial Bank! Visit the ArtZone to make art inspired by Thornton Dial, Sr., embark on a Treasure Hunt for prizes, enjoy the NHBW-Gadsden Reading Corner, and more!

Fernanda Pena – Gadsden Arts Center & Museum