May 13, 2014–January 8, 2017

Birds Got to Have Somewhere to Roost

Thornton Dial Sr. (1928-2016) Reformers



Wood, carpet scraps, corrugated tin, burlap, nails, and enamel on wood

61 1/4 x 48 x 10"

Collection American Folk Art Museum, New York

Gift of the Thornton Dial Family, 2013.6.1

Photo by Stephen Pitkin/Pitkin Studio

Thornton Dial Sr. (1928-2016)

Birds Got to Have Somewhere to Roost

The highly poetic and evocative titles of Thornton Dial’s artworks—Bone Dry (2011), Freedom Cloth (2005), History Refused to Die (2004), The Art of Alabama (2004), Equal Opportunity: Mosquitoes Don’t Discriminate (2002), Cotton-Field Sky Still over Our Head (2001)—relate to the embedded brutality endured by African Americans during their quest for justice through historical phenomena such as the civil rights movement, as well as the victory of their oral culture. These inflammatory topics take a more philosophical note and slightly dissolve in Birds Got to Have Somewhere to Roost. One can suggest that this relief painting depicts a fragment of a pervasive Southern phenomenon called the “yard show,” a West African custom that survived four hundred years of New World oppression, as art historian Robert Farris Thompson has formulated. These ever-changing installations are symbols of tenacity, survival, and rebirth among abandoned things. This painted construction by Dial may specifically sustain the idea that everybody has to have a home and reference the comfort the home implies. A prototypical piece of his latest works, it refers to agriculture, rural communities, and relationships between people, animals, and nature. The distribution of gold, silver, and pink tones, the interplay of textures, and the growing movement of the weed makes this piece ethereal and weightless.

Valérie Rousseau, “Birds Got to Have Somewhere to Roost,” exhibition label for Self-Taught Genius: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum. Stacy C. Hollander and Valérie Rousseau, curators. New York: American Folk Art Museum, 2014.