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Sharing a Moment, Experiencing a Life: My Day with Mr. Dial

Mr. Dial at the opening of the exhibition, "Hard Truths: The Art of Thornton Dial." Photo by Tad Fruits.

The first time I learned about Thornton Dial was last fall in my Introduction to Museum Studies course at IUPUI.  As preparatory work for a visit to the IMA, my class watched the documentary Mr. Dial Has Something To Say, which is now continually on view in the Davis Lab.  I highly recommend it!  Knowing all of the work he has accomplished in his life, I was overwhelmed when my boss, Cliff, told me that I was to escort Mr. Dial around the museum the morning that Hard Truths: The Art of Thornton Dial would open.

On Thursday, February 24th, I stood in the the Efroymson Family Entrance Pavilion with butterflies in my stomach.  Let me tell you, the anticipation of meeting a person you know to have such strength of spirit is extremely intimidating.  Then I met Mr. Dial, and though his spirit is just as strong as I thought it would be, his personality was amazingly warm and inviting.

As we moved into Hard Truths, Mr. Dial saw, for the first time, his life’s work exhibited in a way that truly represented the emotion and care that exists in each of his pieces.  He released a sigh, as though he had been holding his breath for twenty years.  It was like friends meeting again after a long separation.

Though I was a silent observer, I was able to share an amazing experience with Mr. Dial – both of us seeing, for the first time, the most extensive and complete exhibition of his artwork to date.  “You made it so beautiful,” Mr. Dial kept saying.  Joanne Cubbs, Adjunct Curator of American Art, would continually reply, “You are the one who made it beautiful.”  Walking with Mr. Dial was both amazing and humbling, and it made me appreciate his work and skill all the more.

Something that will stay with me is that when he spoke, though his voice was soft, everyone listened.  People didn’t just stop talking out of courtesy or because Mr. Dial was the man of the hour, although he was that.  People listened to what he said.  They listened because when Mr. Dial spoke, he said things.  His words, filled with stories and emotions, are windows into his artwork, and his artwork acts as windows into life.  His artworks tell stories that really say things. When you walk into Hard Truths: The Art of Thornton Dial, I hope you take the time to discover his stories for yourself, because each piece really does have something to say.

Filed under: Art, Exhibitions, Thornton Dial

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