William R. Dawson (1901-1990) grew up on his grandfather’s farm in rural Alabama. He and his wife came to Chicago in 1923, where he worked as a produce distributor. After semi-retiring, Dawson enrolled in art classes at a local senior center but lost interest in them. He began creating things in his own home studio.
Dawson began creating sculptures from found wood, later adding paintings to his repertoire. What is striking is the penetrating gaze of both human and animal figures, stemming from Dawson’s memories of farm life and figures from popular culture. Deeply committed to his work, Dawson created a new work every day, filling his home with sculptures that he referred to as his ‘friends’.
When a local library agreed to exhibit Dawson’s work, every piece sold. Later, Dawson’s work was exhibited in, among other things, the traveling exhibition ‘Black Folk Art in America, 1930-1980’. At the opening, he escorted First Lady Nancy Reagan through the exhibition on his arm, catching the attention of the press. After his death, Intuit organized a major solo exhibition of Dawson in 2006 with over 250 of his works.