Thornton Dial: Pioneering Self-Taught Painter and Sculptor

Written by Jae Jones

Thornton Dial, Sr., was a renowned painter and sculptor during his time. He was a self-taught artist and known for his images of tigers challenging the world around them.

Dial was born in Livingston, Alabama, in 1928. His mother Mattie Bell, was a teenager when he was born, and he resided on a former cotton plantation where relatives in his extended family worked as sharecroppers. He lived with his mother until he was around three, when Dial and his half-brother, Arthur, moved in with their cousin, Buddy Jake Dial, who was a farmer. As a child, he farmed and learned about the sculptures his cousin made from items lying around the yard, which greatly influenced his life and his work.

In later years, he worked as a steelworker. During that time, he created many of his pieces which were often displayed in his very own backyard. After the factory shut down, Dial began to dedicate himself to his art for his own pleasure. In 1987, he was introduced to Bill Arnett, a local art collector of great influence who brought Dial’s work to public attention.

Dial began easel painting in 1987, his themes derived from his own experiences living through segregation, migrating North, and the civil rights movement. Some of Dial’s pieces include The Tiger Cat, African Ladies Dancing, Life Goes On, Remembering the Road, and Struggling Tiger Proud Stepping. Dial died January 25, 2016, he was 87.



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About the author

Jae Jones

Jae Jones has been writing professionally for over 10 years. She holds a degree in Business Administration, and enjoys writing on various topics.

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