Letting His Life's Work Do the Talking - The New York Times

Letting His Life's Work Do the Talking - The New York Times

Thornton Dial has never been one for talking much about his artwork. Ask him what inspires his monumental assemblages, made from twisted metal, tree branches, cloth, plastic toys, animal bones and all manner of found materials, and he is likely to respond tersely, as he did while showing me around his studio here one bone-chilling day last month. “I mostly pick up stuff,” he said. “I start on a picture when I get a whole lot of stuff together. And then I look at the piece and think about life.”

Souls Grown Deep and the Cultural Politics of the Atlanta Olympics - Radical History Review
Spring, 2007

Artifacts are inherently more powerful than words. To see an aesthetic or a social vision realized in the material world is to be captured by it, to lose one’s grip on alternative possibilities.


—Dell Upton, The Power of Things: Recent Studies in American Vernacular Architecture

Bill Arnett, Thornton Dial and the Myth of America - Raw Vision
Summer, 2006

Few art collectors have achieved the notoriety of Bill Arnett. The subject of a controversial episode of the popular American television show 60 Minutes, and currently the focus of a sensationalized ‘non-fiction novel,’ The Last Folk Hero, Arnett has been portrayed for years by some as a dark and satanic figure, a "king of outsider art" who had taken advantage of unsuspecting folk artists and manipulated the art market. He has recently been viewed as a hero after orchestrating the wildly popular exhibition of African American quills, The Quilts of Gee’s Bend.

Jazzy Geometry, Cool Quilters - The New York Times

Jazzy Geometry, Cool Quilters - The New York Times

The most ebullient exhibition of the New York art season has arrived at the Whitney Museum in the unlikely guise of a show of hand-stitched quilts from Gee’s Bend, Ala. Gee’s Bend is a remote, historically black community occupying a bulb of bottom land, a U-shaped peninsula five miles across and seven miles long, hemmed in on three sides by the Alabama River. The single road in and out of town was paved only in 1967. That was roughly the time ferry service, the most direct route outside, stopped when whites in Camden, the county seat and nearest city as the crow flies, decided they didn’t appreciate Benders crossing the river to register to vote.

The Missing Tradition - Art in America
May, 1997

Responding to a pair of related exhibitions in Atlanta, one devoted to the recent work of Alabama artist Thornton Dial, the other surveying vernacular African-American artists of the South, the author detects the emergence of a long-overlooked force in American art.

William Arnett's Formative Role as Patron and Collector of African American Art

In 1993, The Michael C. Carlos Museum of Emory University contracted with Dr. Robert Hobbs, holder of The Rhoda Thalheimer Endowed Chair in American Art at Virginia Commonwealth University, to serve as curator of the exhibition “Souls Grown Deep” and editor of the accompanying book, which the museum planned to sponsor for the Cultural Olympiad of the Centennial Olympic in Atlanta in 1996. Dr. Maxwell Anderson, the museum’s director, commissioned Prof. Hobbs to undertake and in-depth study of the field of southern African American vernacular art in preparation for the production of the book and exhibition.