Explore life in the South through never-before-seen art in new exhibit “I, Too, Am Alabama”—now-Dec. 10

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Thornton Dial
IMAGE CREDIT//Jerry Siegel / Thornton Dial, Bessemer, Alabama, 2007 / Archival inkjet print / Courtesy of the artist / ©️ Jerry Siegel

Prepare to be captivated in I, Too, Am Alabama—the latest exhibit spanning the life’s work of prominent southern artist Thornton Dial at the Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts, now-December 10. Read on for a look at the exhibit, including many works that have never been exhibited or published before now.

About the artist

Thornton Dial
IMAGE CREDIT//Jerry Siegel / Thornton Dial, Bessemer, Alabama, 2007 / Archival inkjet print / Courtesy of the artist / ©️ Jerry Siegel

Thornton Dial was born in 1928 in the tiny rural community of Emelle, Alabama in “one of them [little country houses where] you can lay down and look up through the ceiling and see the sunshine.”

Raised by his great-grandmother who worked as a sharecropper, Thornton helped earn his way at an early age, working on the farm as a small child, helping harvest corn, sweet potatoes and cotton. 

When his great-grandmother passed away, Thornton was taken in by a relative who lived in the small industrial town of Bessemer. While other children were going to school, Thornton chose to work instead, taking on a number of odd jobs from raising cattle and hauling ice to masonry and carpentry. 

Thornton Dial
Installation view Thornton Dial: I, Too, Am Alabama, Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, Alabama, September 9 – December 10, 2022 AEIVA, UAB Photo: Beau Gustafson.

He was also employed as a metal worker at the Bessemer Pullman-Standard Boxcar factory, where he worked until its closure in 1981. This is where he became a blowtorch operator and learned many of the skills he would later use in his sculptures.

Despite having no formal art training and no formal education, Thornton’s creations took the world by storm, coming to prominence in the late 1980s.

Known as a quiet observer, Thornton took an interest in art at an early age and continued to hone his skills throughout his life. Much of his work included large-multimedia compositions that incorporated paint as well as items like rope, torn fabric, metal pieces and rocks into both abstract and representational pieces. 

His art covered themes like Black lives in the South, Civil Rights history, archaeology and construction.

In 1993, he had his first solo museum exhibition Image of the Tiger, which was jointly presented by the American Folk Art Museum and the New Museum in New York City. In 2000, his work was featured in the Whitney Museum Biennial.

Upon his death in 2016 at the age of 87, Thornton not only left behind a sought-after body of work, but one that’s transformed American Art. 

A look at the exhibit—I, Too, Am Alabama

Thornton Dial
Installation view Thornton Dial: I, Too, Am Alabama, Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, Alabama, September 9 – December 10, 2022 AEIVA, UAB Photo: Beau Gustafson.

After turning heads in the art world for decades, Thornton’s life’s work is being celebrated in his home state in the powerful exhibit I, Too, Am Alabama. Now through December 10, you can view the exhibit at the Abroms-Engel Institute for Visual Art in Birmingham.

I, Too, Am Alabama is the first retrospective exhibit covering Thornton Dial’s entire career; it’s also the first large-scale exhibition of his work in his home assemblages. What’s especially exciting is that many of the works have never been previously exhibited or published. 

Thornton Dial
Installation view Thornton Dial: I, Too, Am Alabama, Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, Alabama, September 9 – December 10, 2022 AEIVA, UAB (Beau Gustafson).

The exhibit features significant loans from:

  • The Dial family
  • Alabama institutions
  • Private collections across the US

Event Details

What: Thornton Dial: I, Too, Am Alabama
When: Now-December 10 | Tuesday-Saturday, Noon-5PM
Where: AEIVA, 1221 10th Avenue South, Birmingham, AL 35205
Cost: FREE
Parking: Metered + free parking is available along streets surrounding AEIVA. 

For more exhibits at AEIVA, visit their website, Facebook and Instagram

Sponsored by:

Patience Itson
Patience Itson
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