Dilmus Hall was one of many children in a farming and blacksmithing family living near Athens, Georgia. As a schoolboy he shaped animals from clay, and from flour mixed with sweet gum he got by "blazing" trees on his parents' land. His father did not think much of his son's art, in that he considered picking cotton a boy's most important function. His mother, however, appreciated the litle sculptures that Dilmus brought her, and she encouraged him. Hall eventualy left the family farm to work in a coal mine and swing a pick with a road gang. In 1917, he joined tlie Medical Corps of the U.S. Army and served in Europe as a stretcher bearer. European art inspired many of his later sculptures.
Hall later returned to Georgia to work as a hotel bell captain and waiter, a sorority house busboy on the local University of Georgia campus, and a fabricator of concrete blocks for a construction company. He retired in 1961. He had married Zaydie, whom he described as "a splendid woman, and I sure loved her." She died in 1973. They were unable to have children, but, as Hal said about the doctor who told them this, "Fooled him! Whooee, yes. I fooled him. He didn't know me, didn't know about die gift of my talent. 'Cause I sure did make children. I'm stil making 'em, out of concrete and whatever else I can find to do with."1
In the way he made art and in the way he decorated his house, Dilmus Hall is consistent with African American conjuring culture, a vernacular religion that mixes aspects of Christianity with various African traditions of empowering objects.2 African American yard arts can be proclamadons of individual public identity, tools for remembering aspects of African American conjuring culture, storyteling devices, memorials to artists or odiers, signs to community members, and conscious protective systems for controling or keeping away dangerous forces.3 Hall's earliest constructions, possibly fifty years old, are three personal protective cliarms made from roots, painted blue and nailed to the eaves of his porch. His charms are similar to central African protective devices called niiukisi, also made from twisted roots. A round cement ball in Hall's yard, decorated with two blue hands and dated 1962, refers to an African American charm called a "mojo" or "hand."
Crosses and diamonds, favored in African American vernacular religions, are associated with a central African cosmogram which represents four moments of tlie sun, or four stages of the soul: birth, life, death, and rebirth. Although Hall frequently used cross and diamond motifs, he was unaware of the African history associated with these symbols, but he did believe in their protective power. In the center of his living room ceiling Hall painted four red circles around a light bulb.4 His masterful horse painting, done by the artist in the 1940s and acknowledged by him as his first painting, features diamonds above and below the animal. Yellow cement diamonds were on four corners of his house, and blue wooden plaques with white diamonds were on three sides of al his windows, trimmed in a blue believed diroughout the South and the Caribbean to be protective. A yellow wooden rising sun, with three diamond shapes below, was on the gable end of his house. Below, on the cement block wall, was a yellow cement sun and moon with eyes and smiling faces.
During the 1950s, Hall made allegorical figures of concrete over wire and wood annatures, which he placed in small groups in the front yard of his small cinderblock home. One protective tableau, titled The Devil and the Drunk Man, shows a drunkard passed out on a bed, another slumped at a table, bottle in hand, and a fearsome, red-eyed, open-mouthed devil standing over both, a rock in his upraised fist. Hall said, "Satan, he's making that old boy go on drinkin'." Hall believed tliat the devil was active in daily life, going to and fro, seeking ways to influence people into sinful acts, or be "whooped." His sculptures protected him from this devil.
Later, Hall drew prolifically on paper with colored pencils and crayons, producing hundreds of animated cartoonlike sketches and a series of arresting wooden crucifixions. A simple, elegant one was molded in half-relief over wood painted blue; another was the last sculpture Hall created. Two larger crucifixions, made of wood, putty and bits of rag, show Jesus nailed to the cross with a splinter in his mouth, stabbed by a Roman soldier's spear, and flanked by two thieves. Hall commented, "That's death he's crushing between his teeth."5
According to Hall, he possessed creative talent all his life. "If God gives you the talent to make something that will celebrate mankind, your work will stand, do you hear me? It will testify to the goodness of life after you're done gone, yes."6