Thornton (Buck) Dial
(1928 - 2016)
Thornton (Buck) Dial was active/lived in Alabama. Thornton Dial is known for outsider art, rural genre and landscape painting, sculpture.
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A folk artist who does paintings, assemblage and sculpture, Thornton
Dial, Sr., known as Buck, spent his life in Alabama, where he married,
had three sons and two daughters and lived in Bessemer. He was
the "patriarch" of a clan of noted folk artists including his son,
Thornton Dial Jr., known as "Little Buck", and Richard Dial.
His art emanates from his concerns about racial and male/female
relationships in America, with assemblages representing "what makes up
the world as he sees it" (Rosenak, 102) and expresses his feelings about
conflict and harmony and the importance of community. His work
reflects his special concern about the struggle of blacks in
Of his expression, he says: "I make art that ain't spaking
against nobody or for nobody neither. Sometimes it be about what
is wrong in life. I do that because I want the world to be
right. . . .It don't make the world right just because I want it
right." (Riggs, 149)
He uses oil and water base paint and bold colors for his paintings and
makes his sculptures from found objects and easily acquired materials
such as tin, tree roots, bottles, carpet and plastic. Many of his
pieces are large, often four feet square or more.
Dial Sr. held many jobs including carpenter, house painter, cement
mixer and iron worker. From 1952 to 1980, he worked for the
Pullman Standard Company, which manufactured railroad cars in
Bessemer. After retirement from that job, when not pursuing his
art interests, he raised turkeys and made wrought-iron lawn furniture
with his sons.
From the time he was young, according to him, he "was always making
ideas, but the notion that they were art never occurred to me until I
met Bill Arnett" in 1987. Arnett was an art dealer from Atlanta
and was especially interested in folk art. Arnett promoted his
art and arranged an exhibit of Dial's work in 1988 at the High Museum
of Art in Atlanta, and in 1989 at the Latin American Gallery in New
Chuck and Jan Rosenak, Museum of American Folk Art Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century American Folk Art and Artists,
Thomas Riggs, Editor, St. James Guide to Black Artists
, p. 149
Added note: Thornton Dial died on January 25, 2016 at his home in Emelle, Alabama.
Thornton Dial Sr. attended school through the fourth grade and is
married with five children. He worked for the Pullman Standard
Company for thirty years and, a "jack-of-all-trades", he did iron work
and cement work.
Bill Arnett learned of his art through self taught artist, Lonnie
Holley, and brought attention of Dial's work to the art world in 1987.
Before that time, Dial's wife, Clara Mae, would make him bury his
Thornton Dial, sometimes called Buck Dial, created
sculptural objects, which are large assemblages using as found
objects. He also uses pastels and paints on small to large sized
artist papers supplied by Arnett.
Dial has deep convictions concerning racial, religious, political, and
social valves which he expresses brilliantly in his work. Thornton has
had one man shows in New York City and Houston.
In the fall of
2005, the Houston Fine Arts Museum hosted a show, "Thornton Dial in the
21st Century." The show contained over 60 large assemblage works,
sculpture, and works on paper. The accompanying book; Thornton Dial in the 21st Century by Paul Arnett, Joanne Cobbs and Eugene W. Metcalf Jr. clearly establishes Dial as a premier artist.
Dial Sr. is one of a handful of artists that will bridge the chasm of
self-taught verses trained artists. His work begs the question of