Thornton Dial

Thoughts on Paper

Edited by Bernard L. Herman

Foreword by Emily Kass

224 pp., 7 x 10, 86 color plates., 5 halftones, notes, bibl., index

  • eBook ISBN: 978-0-8078-8267-2
    Published: March 2012

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Thornton Dial (1928-2016), one of the most important artists in the American South, came to prominence in the late 1980s and was celebrated internationally for his large construction pieces and mixed-media paintings. It was only later, in response to a reviewer's negative comment on his artistic ability, that he began to work on paper. And it was not until recently that these drawings have received the acclaim they deserve. This volume, edited by Bernard L. Herman, offers the first sustained critical attention to Dial's works on paper.

Concentrating on Dial's early drawings, the contributors examine Dial's use of line and color and his recurrent themes of love, lust, and faith. They also discuss the artist's sense of place and history, relate his drawings to his larger works, and explore how his drawing has evolved since its emergence in the early 1990s. Together, the essays investigate questions of creativity and commentary in the work of African American artists and contextualize Dial's works on paper in the body of American art.

The contributors are Cara Zimmerman, Bernard Herman, Glenn Hinson, Juan Logan, and Colin Rhodes.

Published in association with Ackland Art Museum

About the Author

Bernard Herman is George B. Tindall Professor of American Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and author of Town House: Architecture and Material Life in the Early American City, 1780-1830.
For more information about Bernard L. Herman, visit the Author Page.


“Beautifully illustrated.”--Carolina Arts & Sciences

"Perfect for those interested in American history, culture, art, and, of course, Thornton Dial."--Library Journal

"The first critical review of Dial's art on paper. . . [and] Thornton Dial is an interesting case study about folk art and its respectability."--Journal of American Culture

"The contributors to this volume make significant contributions to Dial scholarship, offer new interpretations of his work, and add much to the current debate about the concept of the art historical canon. Their essays are original, solid, and knowledgeable and will have an important role in shaping future discussions of Dial's work."--Charles Russell, author of Groundwaters: A Century of Art of Self-Taught and Outsider Artists

"This book is filled with fascinating commentary on an artist who is fast earning recognition as one of the art world's most remarkable voices. Offering important new insights into Dial's work, as well as a deeper perspective on the cultural politics that have influenced its reception, these essays make a highly valuable contribution to the growing field of scholarship on Dial and his art."--Joanne Cubbs, organizer of the exhibition Hard Truths: The Art of Thornton Dial and adjunct curator of American art, Indianapolis Museum of Art

"One of America’s most remarkable living artists, Thornton Dial at age eighty-three is increasingly enjoying the recognition that he deserves. Far more than just the visually powerful production of an African American metalworker in Alabama employing a wide range of castoff materials, his works are understood as complex and probing meditations on fundamental human concerns, such as social and political history in the United States, racism, urban/rural dichotomies, industrial pollution, male/female relations, and current events. This book is the first to focus on his impressive body of drawings. Its five essays, drawn from the perspectives of the art historian, artist, folklorist, and curator, define the artist's work on paper in its interrelationships with his three-dimensional production."--Ann Percy, editor of James Castle: A Retrospective