conserving THornton dial | the assemblages in the high museum of art
The High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia, a member of the Williamstown + Atlanta Art Conservation Centers, holds one of the largest and most significant public collections of Thornton Dial’s assemblages in the US, within their department of folk and self-taught art. After a significant acquisition of thirteen Dial artworks from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation, the High Museum was awarded a Bank of America conservation grant. Funds from the grant enabled the High to create a two-fold initiative; to research Dial’s oeuvre and artistic contributions and to conserve his artworks. As part of this initiative, the High hired the Center to survey seventeen of Dial’s most complex assemblages and one sculpture, all created between 1980 and 2009. The survey, conducted in 2019 through a collaborative effort between our Atlanta and Williamstown locations by conservators Hélène Gillette-Woodard, Kristen Gillette, Sally Gunhee Kim, and Christine Puza documented the artworks' condition in addition to recommendations for conservation. These measures ensure the long-term preservation and exhibition of Dial’s narratives during a time of an imperative cultural shift in the conversation about race and identity
Thornton Dial applies paint to one of his outdoor sculptures in 2005. (Image credit: Matthew Arnett).
Salvaged car parts, rope, carpet, children’s toys, newspaper, branches, rocks, and metal scraps: these materials represent the evidence of everyday life, a thumbprint of humanity. They would become the medium that Thornton Dial (b. 1928- d. 2016) (fig.1) used to comment on the human spectacle around him, resulting in the freedom and power that he found as a self-taught, African American artist living and working in Alabama [1]. Dial created complex three-dimensional assemblages utilizing a variety of found and salvaged objects that were attached to a back board support with different types of fasteners, collaged and built up with Splash Zone A788 Compound, and emboldened with a variety of industrial paints (slideshow, fig.2). His large-scale assemblages display layers of juxtaposed and entangled objects that are manipulated and held together using skills he developed in carpentry, welding, and painting. Dial’s choice of quotidian materials and industrial techniques not only communicate a shared narrative of human experience but also emphasize the struggle of African Americans in the industrial workforce that “help[ed] make the power of the United States what it is today” [2]. This feature article will introduce you to Thornton Dial and his legacy, underscore the importance of conserving this impressive collection, and outline the research carried out by our conservators at the Center. There is a brief overview of Dial's materials and techniques in addition to associated condition concerns for long-term preservation and conservation. Supporting articles by our conservators share both the methodology and findings that resulted from the research. The findings of this study are timely, providing a baseline for conservation not only for the High Museum but for other institutions that are actively acquiring the work of Thornton Dial.
Like many great artists who embraced the practice of assemblage in the latter half of the 20th century, Dial selected the component parts of his work not only because of their availability, but also the meaning and spirit he believed they carried with them.
“Since the beginning of the world man been struggling to learn about things,” Dial said. “Anything you pick up, somebody know about. You picking up the spirit of somebody. My art got my spirit. I picked up a whole lot in my day.” — thornton dial [3]
The variety of materials and complex types of attachments inherent in Dial’s work present a challenge for even the most seasoned conservator. As the largest regional center in the country with interdisciplinary-skilled departments, WACC and AACC are well equipped to perform the task of examining and analyzing Thornton’s work to determine a tailored course of action for their preservation. The survey was carried out in 2019 under the supervision and expertise of our department head of objects, HélÈne Gilette-Woodard with collaboration from Kristen Gillette, Sally Kim, and Christine Puza.
FIGURE 2 . Sildeshow of a select number of
Thornton Dial's artwork in the Collection of the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, GA. Click the arrows to scroll through.
Dial’s range of materials and techniques present several challenges for the long-term preservation of these artworks. It was necessary to create a baseline understanding of his fabrication processes and how his materials will age over time. The complexity of construction and array of degradation characteristics in Dial’s materials warranted further research and analysis utilizing various analytical and imaging techniques such as Fourier-transform Infrared Spectroscopy, Reflectance Transformation Imaging, and X-radiography. The project was divided into four stages: 1) a visual examination of his assemblages and documenting their present condition with diagrams, written reports, and conservation maintenance recommendations; 2) the study of the structure of his assemblages with high-resolution digital images, using RTI and X-rays; 3) the analysis of materials using polarized light microscopy and Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR). Examinations and visual analysis took place at the High Museum of Art and the Atlanta Art Conservation Center; additional material analysis was carried out in our analytical lab at the Williamstown Art Conservation Center and the Chemistry Department at Williams College, MA.
FINDING WHOLENESS THROUGH PERSEVERANCE As a self-proclaimed “working man”, Dial liked to incorporate materials with which he felt familiar and that reflected everyday life to communicate narratives of human struggle and perseverance [4]. His own story of perseverance as a black man living in the South during the genesis of the civil rights movement is essential to understanding the narratives projected through his art. Thornton Dial grew up in rural Sumter County, Alabama, on an old plantation, which he describes as “Luther Elliot’s plantation” [5]. His great-grandfather took the Dial surname from a white family who owned land nearby [6]. His family worked as sharecroppers that picked cotton on the estate—they were indentured servants working to pay off “their debt” by picking cotton and produce—which Dial says was never paid off [7]. He speaks humbly about his upbringing and gently relays his observations about his experience as a young boy, his family’s interest in gambling to get ahead, and the resulting denigration that he worked through with his art. It was during his childhood that Dial started to make things and draw as a means of expressing the world around him; he was always making something. Dial's great-grandmother and aunt raised him and his brother Arthur. When he was twelve (1940), Thornton and his brother moved to Bessemer, Alabama, and lived with their great aunt, Sarah Dial Lockett [8]. This family matriarchy would have a profound effect on his artwork. During a 1991 interview with filmmaker Christopher Gamboni, Dial agreed ("That's true") that if he hadn’t been raised by women, he’d probably be drawing other things [9]. When discussing the recurrent use of the tiger motif in Dial's artwork, he conceded that while the tiger was in some of his work, “women be in just about everything I have made, in one way or another…women are the creation of the world, at the creation of all works” [10]. Many of his drawings depict a female or the female form while various assemblages pay homage to the significant women in life: his wife (Surviving the Frost, fig.3), his daughter Patricia, who died of cerebral palsy, and Mary Lee Bendolph of Gees Bend (Mrs. Bendolph, Birmingham News).
Thornton Dial, Surviving the Frost, 2007. Industrial plastic, straw, metal, fabric, wire, nails, and enamel on canvas on wood,, 105 x 74 x 11 inches, The High Museum of Art. Click here to scroll down to learning about his technique.
Growing up in the Pipe Shop neighborhood of Bessemer, Alabama, Thornton Dial became acquainted with steel through both welding and pipe-fitting. His family members and neighbors were steelworkers for plants like the Pipe Shop; the steel industry dominated the local economy. As Dial grew up and moved around the Birmingham-Bessemer area, he would go on to work many different jobs including thirty years at the Pullman-Standard boxcar plant. When the Pullman factory shut down in 1983, he started Dial Metal Patterns, a small business making metal patio furniture with his sons [11]. By this time, several self-taught artists were working in the community of the Bessemer-Birmingham area. This group included Lonnie Holly, Joe Minter, Charlie Lucas, as well as his cousin, Ronald Lockett, his brother, Arthur Dial, and his sons, Thornton Dial Jr., and Richard Dial. Metal was a common material that each of these men used; however, the extent of their interaction or the creative influence they may have had on each other is unknown. Like some of his contemporaries in the early eighties, Thornton Dial did not consider himself an artist or part of an established creative community. The act of making was a way to communicate his spirit, to find wholeness through an integral form of self-expression rooted in the cultural identity of African Americans living in the South.
In 1987, Dial met William S. Arnett, a collector and art dealer based in Atlanta. Arnett had previously specialized in historical Asian and African art but by the 1980s had set out on a mission to seek out examples of work by Black visual artists that matched the brilliance of Black musicians who had already revolutionized American culture. Arnett was instrumental in identifying Thornton Dial as a prolific self-taught artist and advocated for Dial, encouraging contemporary art galleries to exhibit his work. Arnett would act as his dealer, putting him in an international spotlight and even purchasing a home for him when Dial was incapable of securing a mortgage. The beginning of their relationship was marked by a lack of common language when discussing art [12]. Even though Dial was constantly creating things, he said that he did not know what he was making was art and was apprehensive about practices like naming his works. He was not making art to be seen or to gain fame but used art as a language for expressing his cultural identity and what he understood about the world around him. According to Arnett, when he and Dial met, Dial had “never been to a museum or seen an art book". [13]
Alabama Public Television shares the four-time Emmy-winning film, Mr. Thornton Has Something to Say on their Youtube feed. Press play to learn more about Thornton Dial's artistic journey and his relationship with art dealer, Bill Arnett.
A well-known ”60 Minutes” documentary exploited Dial and sought to damage Arnett's reputation; this critical news piece also discredited Dial, who lost opportunities to exhibit his work just as he had started to reach international acclaim [14]. The "60 Minutes" interview threatened to destory Dial's lively hood under the guise of “supporting him”. When the media painted Dial as naive and uneducated, he lost credibility and respect as an artist. However, he didn't give up but continued making his assemblages. He had a clear understanding of the art market, the pubic appreciation for his work, and the influence of the human spirit on his artistic aesthetic:
“It’s about likes and dislikes. People in the United States do not hate one another. No. But they be scared of one another. The way life have been taught is to make black peoples and white peoples be against one another in fear. I don’t believe there is any natural hate in people. I believe there is natural love. We can relate to people’s spirit and we can relate to their mind. I understand those things, and I believe we need to make the mind more close to the spirit.”
—thornton dial [15]
Since its founding by Mr. Arnett, the Souls Grown Deep Foundation (SGDF) has been integral to the advocacy of Black Southern artists like Thornton Dial in the canon of American Art History. Despite the setbacks Thornton and his contemporaries have faced, with the help of organizations such as SGDF, they have gained credibility and respect as artists.
The High has collected Dial's work since the 1990s and holds the largest public collection of Thornton Dial artwork in the country. A portion of its holdings was acquired recently, in a 2017 acquisition from SGDF. The Foundation initiated a similar acquisition partnership in 2014 when it gifted a number of works to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Through their museum transfer program, SGDF has partnered with dozens of institutions across the US to ensure that Dial and other Black Southern artists are well represented in the collections of major museums and has ensured their art is preserved for future generations.
EVALUATION OF MATERIALS AND TECHNIQUES Using his background in construction and welding, Dial created his assemblages with a variety of found and salvaged materials, textiles, and paint. The pieces surveyed in the High’s collection showed that Dial tended to start their construction with a board support covered with a prepared or raw canvas layer; however, Dial sometimes covered his support boards with wool blankets (Crossing Waters), burlap (Driving to the End of the World (Gold)), but sometimes used bare plywood as his primary support. The backing board serves as the support to which he attaches his found and salvaged objects. These materials were attached to the backboards with nails, screws, staples, and wire that are covered or built up with Splash Zone A788 Compound, a marine-grade epoxy putty. Splash Zone was also used to model transitions between canvas and rope, as well as creating linear motifs, and three-dimensional faces. The surface was then covered or partially covered with sprayed, brushed, or rolled paint layers.
The Importance of Dial's Backing Board Supports By the end of the 1980s, Arnett started providing Dial with fabricated backing boards for his painted assemblages. The backing boards were composed of a sheet of plywood with wood battens and a wood cleat attached to the back. Analysis of Dial's assemblages with x-radiography showed that at least nine of the High assemblages surveyed were created using these fabricated backing boards. The front of the plywood was stretched with a plain weave cotton canvas. Two other assemblages had backing boards constructed by Dial following the same methodology. It’s uncertain how many backing boards Arnett provided to Thornton. There are several supports that Dial fabricated himself using recycled materials. The backing boards fabricated by Dial were like those Arnett provided but used found pieces of wood as the battens and cleats. Other assemblages made during this period show more creative methods in fashioning backing boards. Two were commercial office wall dividers, three were bare sheets of plywood with wood cleats, and one was sheet metal with a wood post. Among the artworks with a backing board, the choice of backing board material has played a significant role in the structural stability of the assemblage. The Arnett backing boards provide a stable support system for Dial's densely packed assemblages and show less damage than the six artworks that use more creative backing support.
Several of the assemblages constructed with handmade backing boards have structurally failed in response to handling, shipping, and environmental deterioration agents coupled with the combined weight of the applied objects. As an example, Dial used a prefabricated wall divider composed of an unknown interior support board as the backing board for Driving to the End of the World (Gold) (fig. 4), which was included in the touring exhibition, Hard Truths (2012). The wall divider was covered with burlap and surrounded by a tubular metal frame that was covered with wood veneer. Dial attached several found and recycled objects to this support: parts of an old truck he had discovered in the woods, galvanized sheet metal, metal wire, a Bakelite clock surround, PVC wheels, a metal cart, a rubber gasket, and chrome-plated steel. Once the objects were adhered to the backing board, the surface was covered with an uneven application of gold spray paint. The assemblage's primary condition issue was the failing support that resulted from the choice of the backing board and the methods of object attachment. Consequently, any movement or vibration has resulted in detachment of the media. Support failure may have been exacerbated when the piece toured for exhibitions. Similar damage can be seen in Driving to the End of the World (Silver), where Dial used a simple plywood backing; however, structural failure is not as extensive likely due to the choice of more structurally stable support.
Thornton Dial, Driving to the End of the World (Gold), 2004, Auto body parts, tin, paint rollers, wheels, carpet, spray paint, and Splash Zone compound on wood, 61 1/2 x 61 x 10 1/2 inches, The High Museum of Art
Splash Zone A788-Compound The issues with detachment are also related to Thornton Dial’s use of a commercial two-part epoxy, Splash Zone A-788 Compound, as both a modeling putty and the primary adhesive in most of his assemblages and sculptures. This marine-grade epoxy was used in the pipe industry; while Dial himself may have had experience using this material at work, Lonnie Holly has said that it was his brother, Arthur Dial, who introduced Thornton to this material [16]. Arthur Dial worked at U.S. Pipe for thirty-seven years and may have used Splash Zone to seal or fix pipes. An artist himself, Arthur Dial’s use of Splash Zone A-788 can be traced to 1988 when he used it as a modeling putty in Welfare Office. When Thornton used Splash Zone as a modeling putty, he used it to develop details on wood or sheet metal supports, model heads and faces within his compositions, and bridge gaps around braided rope (upholstery) and the canvas background. He also used this putty to cover nails, screws, and staples (figs. 5-6). He used Splash Zone as an adhesive to attach objects and wire to the textile-covered backing board or other objects. In cases where elements have shifted or vibrated during transportation and display, Splash Zone has failed. The problem of adhesion has been exacerbated by the weight and types of objects Dial used which has resulted in the detachment of elements. The degradation caused by the use of Splash Zone has also produced losses to painted surface layers. In Driving to the End of the World (Gold), the Splash Zone did not remain attached to the burlap cloth (detail fig.5). The brittle fibers of this hemp cloth undermined the adhesive quality of the epoxy putty, resulting in detachment between objects, or in some instances the complete loss of an element. Instability is worsened further by the embrittlement of aged plastic and rubber elements in the composition. Sometimes Dial pushed Splash Zone’s working time window and used it when it was semi-cured. Evidence of this is seen in several areas where the putty is cracked. Other times, he did not completely mix the epoxy as found in analyzed samples taken from some of his assemblages. Because of the numerous ways in which Dial used this material, Splash Zone became the focus of our analytical investigations.
Detail from Driving to the End of the World (Gold) showing the use of Splash Zone (circled), which has been painted with metallic paint.
FIGURE 6 .Detail from Driving to the End of the World (Silver) showing the use of Splash Zone Compound (circled)
The Use of Corroded Metal Objects Salvaged metal parts are used throughout Thornton Dial’s oeuvre, whether it be a sculpture (Turkey Tower, Tiger Cat), or one of his assemblages (Driving to the End of the World Series). He manipulated pieces of metal utilizing the techniques he learned as a steelworker and welder. It was a material he felt familiar with from his days working at the Pullman plant; most of his contemporaries in the Bessemer-Birmingham group of artists used metal in their artworks. Many of Dial’s found and recycled materials were already in a deteriorated state before being included in his assemblages. The most common type of deterioration inherent to his materials is corrosion (fig. 7). The continual process of oxidation has had lasting effects on the structural integrity of his assemblages; the extent of corrosion is visualized as a collection of dark spots with X-radiography (fig.8). The corrosion found on the metal elements is also causing detachment of the Splash Zone, loss and staining of paint, and lifting of the chrome plating. This type of damage is found on most of the assemblages and sculptures that contain found metal objects such as bits of metal lathe, sheet metal, wire, nails, screws, and staples. In all cases, where there was evidence of detachment of Splash Zone, paint loss with associated peeling paint, and lifting plating, there were areas of corrosion.
Corrosion is inherent to Driving to the End of the World (Gold), which incorporates salvaged car parts
An x-radiograph detail of Driving to the End of the World (Gold) that shows the distribution of corrosion (dark speckles, semi-transparent)
The effects of this type of deterioration are illustrated by one of his earliest works in the High Museum’s collection: Turkey Tower (1980s) (fig.9). This 3-D sculpture is an assemblage of prefabricated tubular and sheet metal stands that Dial welded and ‘Splash-Zoned’ together (fig.10). The metal sheet stands may have been sourced from the metalworking business he had with his sons, which focused on making metal patio furniture; many of his early works feature recycled metal patio parts. The surface is painted with white spray paint with accents of red and black house paint. As seen in many of his assemblages, the previous corrosion on these found metal objects and the use of Splash Zone has led to instability in his artworks. The rust that was part of the found stands has migrated through the paint, resulting in both stained paint and areas of paint loss (fig.11) This inherent corrosion has also weakened old weld joins to the point where some have broken. Additionally, Splash Zone has detached from isolated areas of corrosion, resulting in a weakening of the adhesive joins. These interactions between materials show how deteriorated found objects can undermine the strength and stability of the adhesives, paint, and substructure of Dial's artworks.
Thornton Dial, Turkey Tower, 1980s, Metal and paint, 94 1/4 x 44 1/2 x 28 inches, The High Museum of Art
A detail from Turkey Tower shows how the joinery was held together with Splash Zone, which has been painted white. (image credit: Kristen Gillette)
A detail from Turkey Tower shows rust and loss of paint along the metal components
(image credit: Kristen Gillette)
The Use of Non-metallic and Organic Found Objects In several assemblages, a variety of non-metallic and intact found objects were used. This group represents objects made from textiles and a variety of plastics. Examples include dolls, stuffed animals, clock surrounds, clothing, newspaper, and a macramé owl (figs. 12-13). Samples of the various plastics were taken and analyzed with Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR); aside from the Splash Zone components, polyester (PET), polyolefin, polyvinyl alcohol (PVA), and Polyethylene (PE) were used. Rayon and urea-formaldehyde were found in some of the textile samples. Dial usually salvaged these materials from the outdoor environment; several are unevenly covered with dirt encrustations and showed signs of deterioration as a result of exposure to the outdoors. The types of deterioration exhibited in these non-metallic objects range from fading of dyes, ozone cracking in plastics, and general wear through use and erosion. The most extensive use of intact found objects can be seen in his works Looking Out the Windows and Crossing Waters (see slideshow). Found materials were primarily broken down and used to build a construction or as a base for modeling faces and figures. Examination with X-radiography and Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) was used to help elucidate what materials were used and how they were integrated into the assemblage. These manipulated surfaces and projecting elements can be seen throughout his works, particularly the head of a deer in Struggling Tiger and the faces/masks in Heckle and Jeckle (figs. 14-15). Here he would use strips of metal and board as the substructure on which he built his image using textiles and Splash Zone. These sculpted forms were then covered and delineated with paint.
Dolls and plush toys are used in Looking Out The Windows
Newspaper and a macramé owl are used in Birmingham News
The head of a deer was used in Struggling Tiger Know His Way Out
Faces and masks are camouflaged by the matrix of paint and objects in Heckle and Jeckle
The type of plastic in an object has affected the types of deterioration and impact on other materials such as paint. In Surviving Frost (fig.16), Dial uses plastic bags identified as polyvinyl alcohol, which is water-soluble and biodegradable. This material lends a transitory quality to the bags, making them nearly impossible for a conservator to clean or preserve. In addition, the bags have been painted and there is an associated loss of paint. The paint loss on the surface of these bags could be the result of deterioration or movement of the support material, along with interference from the plasticizer in the plastic that has resulted in poor paint adhesion. Dial also used a variety of organic materials in his assemblages: uncoated wood, leather, and plant material to name a few. As organic materials, they are subjected to deterioration and expansion and contraction of the substrates with changing relative humidity. In addition to movement, deterioration may include acidification; both types of interactions have resulted in the localized loss of paint and parts of the object.
Choice of Paint and Palette After adhering the objects, Dial would use a limited color palette and apply spray or house paint. Both metallic and non-metallic paints have been used throughout his assemblages. Sometimes the paints were mixed with sand or other types of aggregates (figs. 16-17). This can be seen in Surviving the Frost, Crossing Waters, Green Pastures: Birds that did not learn to Fly, and Old Projects. In Struggling Tiger, a spider had been mixed into the paint on canvas. The aggregates do not appear to have created instability in the paint layers of these artworks. Paint samples were taken from the assemblages to understand the risks and concerns for cleaning and stabilization. The focus of the analysis was on the identification of the medium and associated degradation byproducts, rather than specific pigments. Organic analysis utilizing Fourier-transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR) showed that each sample was alkyd-based house paint. Due to his known use of spray paint, it is assumed that both oil and acrylic-based paints are also present; however, these components were not detected in the samples taken for analysis. Both alkyd and oil mediums are known to produce salt exudates in the presence of certain pigments and additives in conjunction with environmental conditions. There were two assemblages with noted areas of salt exudates found on the surface of the paint. In Proud Cats made to Climb, the paint in the upper right quadrants was unevenly covered with a crystalline salt. Flying with the Peckerwoods: running for your life, has a hazy crystalline exudate on a wood element. To determine the exact cause of these salt exudates, further research of the salts needs to be performed using organic analysis methods; visual characterization and analysis of inorganic components in the salts can be done with Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM-EDX). Most assemblages, including those that are otherwise structurally stable, have localized areas of lifting and peeling paint; this is most prominent on the folds of unprimed textiles, as well as plastic objects. In addition to the inherent degradation qualities of the paint film, losses are worsened by established deterioration in found objects that interacts with the paint.
Detail of the paint surface in Surviving the Frost
Detail of the rough paint surface in Old Projects from the use of sand
The array of oil, acrylic, and alkyd-based paints present different ramifications for conservation treatment and preservation. Due to the complexity of his works, there are a number of different types of paint and applications of paint that need further analysis. Further research into the paints he used would better inform their interaction with the underlying materials as well as their stability.
EVALUATION OF MATERIALS AND TECHNIQUES A bulleted list of condition concerns based on the aforementioned use of materials are as follows:
1. Metal materials: Fragility of the pre-corroded metal components as well as any active areas of corrosion. Corrosive products result in embrittlement of the substrate as well as migration of the degradative oxidation products into surrounding materials, such as paint.
2. Plastic materials: Fading of the dyes, ozone cracking, and deterioration of the plastic matrix. The migration of exudates, such as plasticizers and salts will probably result in paint loss.
3. Textiles, rope, and plush toys: Polyester and nylon base fabrics will deteriorate and lose structural strength. Cotton, wool, and linen will be the most stable. The exposed dyes in the object will fade due to light exposure.
4. Wood and grass organic materials: Grasses, wood, and lumber will expand and fluctuate due to changes in the environment that result in loss of surface and applied materials. The breakdown in the organic cellular structure will result in embrittlement and cause future loss. Acids will leach out of the wood objects and impact the adhesive qualities of the Splash Zone epoxy and applied paint.
5. Paper materials: Newspapers and other paper elements will become embrittled over time due to acid deterioration, resulting in future loss. This is particularly an issue with Birmingham News, where there are hidden sections of the newspaper and letters found under and attached to the textile layer.
6. Ceramics and glass: Impact damages and loss of adhesion to the backing supports are the two main concerns.
CONSIDERATIONS FOR LONG-TERM PRESERVATION There is a weighted concern as to how these materials will interact in the future; the mechanisms of deterioration by acid deterioration products in the plastics and the effect of the solvents in Dial’s paints on the stability of the plastics and synthetic textiles necessitate further research. While Sally Kim has explored the agents of deterioration and physical characteristics of Splash Zone, future aging tests of the combinations of materials documented by the WACC and AACC team will give us a baseline understanding of their combined deterioration. While funds from the Bank of America grant will be used to treat several objects, further funding will be required to implement the intensive and innovative conservation measures that must be taken to ensure long-term exhibition of all of Dial’s works in the High Museum’s collection. To contribute to the conservation of Thornton Dial’s assemblages, please click the box below.
Funding for the conservation of this artwork was generously provided through a grant from the Bank of America Art Conservation Project. I would like to express thanks to Helene Gilette-Woodard for introducing me to Thornton Dial and her assistance with this publication, as well as Dr. Katherine Jentleson and Paula Haymon of the High Museum of Art for both their insight and knowledge on Thornton Dial and their support for this edition of the Art Conservator. I would also like to thank the Souls Grown Deep Foundation for their work to include African American artists like Thornton Dial in the canon of art history through education and preservation.
Photography Credit | Kristen Gillette, Matthew Hamilton, Maggie Barkovic, and the High Museum of Art.
[1] Dial, Thornton, Joanne Cubbs, E W. Metcalf, David C. Driskell, and Greg Tate. Hard Truths: The Art of Thornton Dial. Munich: Prestel, 2011.
[2] Souls Grown Deep Foundation. “Thornton Dial: Taken from interviews with Thornton Dial by William Arnett in 1995 and 1996.”,, Accessed 14 Sept 2021.
[3] Dial, Thornton. “Thronton Dial Talks About His Work.” In Thornton Dial: Strategy of the World., edited by William Arnett and Paul Arnett. Jamaica, N.Y.: Southern Queens Park Association, 1990
[4] Souls Grown Deep Foundation. “Thornton Dial: Taken from interviews with Thornton Dial by William Arnett in 1995 and 1996.”,, Accessed 14 Sept 2021.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid.
[9] From an interview between Thornton Dial Sr. and Christopher Gamboni (1991) "A Day With Thornton Dial Sr." Vimeo, uploaded by Ricco/Maresca Galley, accessed 14 Sept 2021.
[10] Souls Grown Deep Foundation. “Thornton Dial: Taken from interviews with Thornton Dial by William Arnett in 1995 and 1996.”,, Accessed 14 Sept 2021.
[11] Ibid.
[12] “Mr. Dial Has Something to Say” (2007) Youtube, uploaded by Alabama Public Television, accessed 14 Sept. 2021.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Dial, Thornton, Joanne Cubbs, E W. Metcalf, David C. Driskell, and Greg Tate. Hard Truths: The Art of Thornton Dial. Munich: Prestel, 2011.
[15] Souls Grown Deep Foundation. “Thornton Dial: Taken from interviews with Thornton Dial by William Arnett in 1995 and 1996.”,, Accessed 14 Sept 2021.
[16] Jentleson, Dr. Katherine. Interview. By Maggie Barkovic. 17 Sept. 2021. [17] Souls Grown Deep Foundation. “Thornton Dial: Taken from interviews with Thornton Dial by William Arnett in 1995 and 1996.”,, Accessed 14 Sept 2021.
[18] Gillette-Woodard, Hélène, Gillette, Kristen, Gunhee Kim, Sally and Puza, Christine; THORNTON DIAL: AN EXAMINATION OF 17 ASSEMBLAGES AND 1 SCULPTURE AT THE HIGH MUSEUM OF ART. Bank of America Conservation Grant, April 2021.