Dial passed in January of 2016, you can read more about his life and legacy in the article written by William Grimes for The New York Times.
Born in a cornfield to an unwed teenage mother, Dial grew up in rural Emelle, in Alabama’s western flatlands. He began full-time farm work at age five and managed to attend school only rarely. On the eve of World War II, he was sent to live with relatives in Bessemer, just outside Birmingham. There, he married, raised a family, and worked for half a century in heavy industry, building highways, houses and ultimately boxcars during a thirty-year stint at the Pullman Standard Plant.
From childhood on, Dial built “things” using whatever he could salvage, recycling even his own work to reuse materials in new creations. Dial referred to what he made only as “things,” though late in life he found out that others call them “art.” Having developed during the era of racial segregation, Dial’s style is both personal and culturally rich, and it speaks with a resolute voice that was denied him through the years as a black factory worker.1
Initially he made art to please himself, or to ornament practical objects. He drew on plywood with an elegant, sinuous line, switching to paper in the early 1990s, at the same time, Mr. Dial’s work began appearing in museum shows, he gained recognition as a remarkable artist and storyteller, with a turbulent, expressionist manner.2
1 Bio excerpt courtesy of Andrew Edlin Gallery, New York.
2 Grimes, W. (2016, January 26). Thornton Dial, Outsider Artist Whose Work Told of Black Life, Dies at 87. The New York Times.