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Montgomery Museum of Fine Art

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William Dawson

December 15 through March 24, 2013

Dawson_ShipArtist William Dawson (1901–1990) was a self-made man, as well as a self-taught artist. Dawson’s tenacity and vision for himself translated into an artistic career that began with his retirement in 1965 and lasted until his death in 1990.

Dawson created a wide-ranging body of work including carved totems, wood reliefs, and paintings. His animal subjects and portraits of friends, celebrities and political personalities created using found wood remnants and paper embody a wide-eyed exuberance while his architectural spaces are futuristic visions.

Early memories of his time on his grandfather’s rural farm in Huntsville, Alabama—where he was born and raised—inspired much of Dawson’s work, particularly his images involving horses and dogs. At the age of twenty-two Dawson moved to Chicago and, despite his lack of a formal education, worked his way up into management at a South Water Market produce distributor.

Turning to art as a way to fill his time after retirement, Dawson tried art classes at his local senior center. Finding that his ideas did not mesh with their formal views Dawson continued on his own path, creating an astonishingly varied body of work created from an assortment of materials including chicken bones, wood, paint and other found objects. Memories of his childhood, his connection to the world around him and popular culture, along with his personal relationships all found its way into his drawings and sculptures.

The exhibition, developed by the MMFA, included 60 works gathered from several private collections that demonstrate Dawson’s sophisticated signature style through a wide range of motifs including animal studies, architecture, and portraiture.


Sponsored by Micki Beth Stiller and Laura and Barrie Harmon.

William Dawson, Ship, date unknown, bones, paint, wood, Collection of Michael and Cindy Noland, Woodstock, Illinois