Arthur Dial


uses the materials he knows from factory work to create assemblage paintings, often satirical in tone, of regional folklore and biblical events. He was born in the hamletof Emelle in rural Sumter County, Alabama. As his mother was unable to care for him and his older half brother, Thornton, they were raised by an aunt. When Dial wasabout the age of ten, the two boys were sent to Bessemer, an industrialized satellite of Birmingham, to live with their great aunt. Dial attended the Sloss Camp Schooluntil third grade, then went to work in a sawmill.After stints at the water department and as a road mender, Dial and his half brother each found employment at the Pullman Standard boxcar factory in Bessemer.Two years later Dial began working at United States Pipe, whose nickname, “Pipe Shop,” was given to the adjacent Bessemer neighborhood where Arthur andThornton both lived. Arthur Dial worked at United States Pipe for thirty-seven years before retiring in the mid-1990s.Dial began making art as a child: “When I was a little thing I did a lot of drawing, mostly cowboys and stuff. I made wagons and scooters and all kinds of toys. Mostfolks made their own toys back then. I made pictures of Jesus Christ, and I remember the one that I was most proud of was Eve and Adam. After I got to working atthe Pipe Shop, I started making other stuff, little peoples, animals, and crucifixions and stuff like that out of scrap pipe and steel and leftover supplies around the shop.”Inspired in part by Thornton, Arthur Dial’s strength as a visual storyteller lies in his ability to depict precise moments of dramatic tension, as in his Eve and Adamseries in which Eve reaches for the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, calling maximum attention to her temptation. In other works, such as his picture of Governor GeorgeWallace blockading the entrance to the University of Alabama in Montgomery, in which the central figure is flanked by two “separate-but-equal” flowering shrubs, Dialrecalls actual local histories while linking them iconographically and morally with his theological works. “Art is a good way to keep your head working,” Dial says. “I lieup in bed at night mapping out what I’m going to do and how I’m going to do it. My art is a record of what went by.”
See also
African American Folk Art (Vernacular Art); Painting, American Folk
Arnett, Paul, and William Arnett.
Souls Grown Deep: African American Vernacular Art of the South,
vol. 1. Atlanta, Ga., 2000.Rosenak, Chuck, and Jan Rosenak.
Museum of American Folk Art Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century American Folk Art and Artists.
New York, 1991