Hailing from Alabama, Thornton Dial had a long career as a railroad welder for the Pullman Standard Company before he turned to art. His first works developed around metal frames as he used his knowledge of steelworking for new purpose. Even as Dial’s art evolved to wall-mounted constructions incorporating found materials from his community of Bessemer, he maintained the aesthetic of twisted metal in his art. Throughout his practice, Dial repurposed found materials, sometimes in homage to their original purpose, sometimes in the service of new narratives.
Dial has been the subject of several major retrospectives, including the 2011 touring exhibition Hard Truths: The Art of Thornton Dial, organized by the Indianapolis Museum of Art. His work is in many museum collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.