We were saddened to learn that artist Thornton Dial passed away yesterday at his home in McCalla, Alabama. Our thoughts are with his loving family and friends. Dial will certainly be remembered as one of the most important artists of the last fifty years. Thanks to the early efforts of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation, founded by William Arnett, the Southern Folklife Collection holds a number of slides that document Mr. Dial, his artwork, and workspace where he created the fantastic assemblages such as those pictured here, all from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation Photographic Collection (20491) in the Southern Folklife Collection.
The complete collection of Thornton Dial images will soon be digitized available for research through the Souls Grown Deep Foundation Photographic Collection (20491) finding aid. Already, you can view work by Dial’s colleagues and contemporaries like Asberry Davis, Mary T. Smith, Lonnie Holley (who introduced Dial to Arnett), and Dial’s cousin, Ronald Lockett. We will link to more of Dial’s work in the Souls Grown Deep Foundation Photographic Collection (20491) finding aid when that content goes live. For now, we pulled a few scans currently in progress that show a but a few examples of the remarkable variety of Dial’s oeuvre in the space where they were created.
One of the reasons we love hearing from all of you brilliant researchers out there is that your questions give us the opportunity to explore parts of the collection we may not have seen in a while. One recent query led me back into into the Robert Bolton Collection (20408). When I opened the folder of negatives, my eyes were immediatly drawn to the one-word description of five sleeves of negatives, “GYROCOPTER.”
Our attention to Bolton’s work in the past has generally led us to his mid-1960s documentary work covering music performances like Bob Dylan’s first tour with The Band, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk and more at the 1965 Chicgago Jazz Festival, and the Ole Time Fiddler’s & Bluegrass Festival in Union Grove, N.C. However, the nearly 2000 images in Bolton’s collection reach far beyond cultural events. Bolton frenquently traveled from his home in Knoxville throughout the Eastern United States, photographing the people he met and the places he stopped along the way, documenting the social landscape of the American South from the mid 1950s through the early 1980s. Apparently, at some point along the way, Bolton ran into Al Cudney, a Canadian-born gyronaut and engineer who worked, at least temporarily, for the rotorcraft pioneer, Dr. Igor Bensen. The Bensen Aircraft Corporation was located near the Raliegh-Durham Airport, possibly resulting in a higher-than-average percentage of gyrocoptor owners in North Carolina compared to other states. Bensen organized clubs and associations of rotorcraft builders and perhaps these photographs docment a local club gathering. For an excellent review of Igor Bensen and gyrocopters in NC, see this excellent post by Harry McKown on our sibling blog from the North Carolina Collection, North Carolina Miscellany.
Bolton’s photos of Cudney (and possibly others) flying the autogyro in the clear skies over this rural airfield in North Carolina in 1968 are magnificent, but they raise so many questions: Where exactly is this airfield? What is the nature of this exposition or event? Who is flying that thing? And especially: How can we get our hands on one of those?. If you are rotorcraft hobbyist or researcher, we would love to hear what you think!
Something else we love about queries from intrepid researchers that lead us to discoveries like Bolton’s 1968 gyrocopter session, is the push to constantly review and reassess the “the stuff” of folklore. Music and stories surely come to mind first for most students we work with at UNC, but students of material culture can also find many wonderful resources in the Southern Folklife Collection‘s holdings documenting architecture, quilts, gravestones, sculpture, woodworking, and more. Bolton’s photographs push the boundaries even further, revealing communities and the craftmanship of makers and machinists experimenting with technology and tradition like Cudney and Benson’s rotorcraft enthusiats.
I woke up this morning to learn that David Bowie had left the planet Earth. Like so many, I was unprepared for this news. As the day progresses, the impact of the world’s loss cuts deeper with every youtube link shared by his seemingly endless legions of fans and the very poignant memorials shared by his closest friends. I think I need a day or two before I can handle Blackstar again, but what do you do when you can’t handle listening to your David Bowie catalog but you want to pay tribute to one of the most important artists of our time? Track down the recordings the man himself venerated.
In November 2003 Bowie selected 25 favorites from his collection in a Vanity Fair article called “Confessions of a Vinyl Junkie.” The list includes Toots and the Maytals’ Funky Kingston, Harry Partch’s Delusion of the Fury, and the Fugs’ 1966 self-titled record.
The Fugs, anchored by poets Ed Sanders and Tuli Kupferberg, recorded irreverent songs like “Group Grope” and “Kill for Peace,” with little regard for production values or flawless takes.
“The sleeve notes were written by Allen Ginsberg and contain these prescient lines: ‘Who’s on the other side? People who think we are bad. Other side? No, let’s not make it a war, we’ll all be destroyed, we’ll go on suffering till we die if we take the War Door.’ I found on the Internet the text for a newsprint ad for the Fugs, who, coupled with the Velvet Underground, played the April Fools Dance and Models Ball at the Village Gate in 1966. The F.B.I. had them on their books as ‘the Fags.’ This was surely one of the most lyrically explosive underground bands ever. Not the greatest musicians in the world, but how ‘punk’ was all that? Tuli Kupferberg, Fugs co-writer and performer, in collaboration with Ed Sanders, has just finished the new Fugs album as I write. Tuli is 80 years old.”
That list was written twelve years ago and Kupferberg, too, has since shuffled off this mortal coil – but not before creating art in various media through several decades. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised Bowie, who released an album two days before his death, counted Tuli among his heroes. And so now we’ll listen to The Fugs, and imagine David Bowie listening to The Fugs, and imagine Tuli listening to David Bowie. And it won’t be forgotten. May the fantastic voyage continue.