Dial met the quilters of Gee’s Bend in 2001, just prior to the opening of their first exhibition and subsequent rise to fame. Over the next few years, he created a number of tributes to the women and their triumph over poverty and obscurity. In 2005, he created a sculptural homage titled Freedom Cloth. The piece is an assembly of bird figures with outstretched wings roosting on a giant mound of wire, fabric, artificial flowers, and plant fronds. The birds, fashioned from rags, symbolize the women of the community whose transformation of castaway cloth into quilts afforded them expressive freedom and, more recently, the respect and admiration of a wide public audience. With that recognition there also came new social status, economic opportunities, and financial independence. Throughout Dial’s work, such birds, modeled after the bald eagle on the U.S. dollar, signify the freedom to transcend social and historical disadvantage and to aspire to the bounties of the American dream. Here, the high-soaring creatures signal not only the transcendent possibilities of old cloth, but the hope for human liberation as well.


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