Thornton Dial (American, b.1928) is a self-taught artist from Emelle, AL, known for his large-scale assemblages that address issues of racism, war, and homelessness. Often referred to as an “outsider artist,” Dial received no formal training, but from a young age, was given to constructing sculptures from found objects and other recycled materials, a technique he would utilize in his later work. After settling in Birmingham before World War II, Dial spent nearly 50 years working in construction, building highways, houses, and boxcars for the Pullman Company. During this time, Dial witnessed many of the most important moments in 20th-century African American life, including sharecropping in the Black Belt, migration to cities, and the Civil Rights Movement, all of which profoundly influenced his work.
After the Pullman factory closed in the early 1980s, Dial continued to pursue artistic endeavors, and eventually came to the attention of influential, Atlanta-based collector Bill Arnett. Arnett went on to bring Dial’s work to national prominence, and encouraged the artist to try his hand at painting and drawing.
Dial's works can be found in notable public and private collections, including the High Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the American Folk Art Museum, New York; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.; the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C.; and the Indianapolis Museum of Art.