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Oral history interview with William Dawson, 1990 April 11-23

Dawson, William, 1901-1990

Painter, Folk artist, Sculptor


Collection Information

Size: 173 Pages, Transcript

Format: Originally recorded on 3 sound cassettes. Reformatted in 2010 as 6 digital wav files. Duration is 3 hr., 58 min.

Summary: An interview of William Dawson conducted 1990 April 11-23, by Betty Blum, for the Archives of American Art.
Dawson speaks of his childhood in Alabama; coming to Chicago in 1923; working as a porter and janitor; the beginnings of his art career after retiring in 1965; making carvings from found objects; the process of discovering and creating forms; his first exhibition at the Lincoln Park Public Library; his first sales to collectors, including Phyllis Kind and Roger Brown; gaining exposure through collectors and eventually getting discovered; the beginning of his work in painting; his exhibition at the Corcoran in 1982; work methods; and inspirations and ideas.

Biographical/Historical Note

William Dawson (1901-1990) was a self-taught painter and sculptor from Chicago, Illinois. Dawson was born in 1901 in Huntsville, Alabama, came to Chicago in 1923, and after retiring from a career as a janitor and porter, he began sculpting and painting. He died July 1, 1990.


These interviews are part of the Archives' Oral History Program, started in 1958 to document the history of the visual arts in the United States, primarily through interviews with artists, historians, dealers, critics and others.

Language Note

English .


Funding for the digital preservation of this interview was provided by a grant from the Save America's Treasures Program of the National Park Service.

How to Use This Collection

Quotes and excerpts must be cited as follows: Oral history interview with William Dawson, 1990 April 11-23. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.