Thornton Dial, Sr.
Born in Emelle, Alabama in 1928, Thornton "Buck" Dial lived in Bessemer in central Alabama. Although his formal education ended with the fourth grade, Dial eventually became a skilled craftsman. For thirty years he worked as a carpenter, house painter, bricklayer, pipe fitter, fisherman, gardener, farmer, and as an employee of Pullman Standard Company (railway boxcar manufacturer), before finally starting his own ironworking business, making wrought-iron patio and lawn furniture.
While pursuing these jobs for income, Dial spent much of his free time "making ideas"—sculptures and paintings that shared his intense convictions about race relationships and proper human behavior. Although his work is now found in major museums and contemporary art collections around the world, many years passed before he began to regard this activity as "artistic". His sons and grandson have also become well-known artists.
Dial often used a tiger as a symbol for a person (especially an African-American) struggling to survive in the jungle of American life. "Anytime you get a cat [and] put him out there with nothing, he's going to survive. So he will kill, catch things. We do the same things. Fighting for freedom, fighting for anything." Often it is a struggle between tigers of different colors. But violence isn't the only, or even the most important, component of survival. Even more vital is maintaining dignity in the face of opposition. Dial points out, "Pride is important."
Thornton Dial passed away at the age of 87 at his home in McCalla, just southeast of Birmingham, Alabama.