Perhaps Dial’s most unforgettable commentary on the inexorable forces of time and the fading agrarian world is his sculpture "Lost Cows," created from real cow skeletons. Made in 2001, this spooky assemblage is a meditation on the cycle of life, death, and the cosmic food chain so central to rural existence. According to Dial, cows live and die and, in the process, provide us with the things that we need to survive. Here, the cow characters are loosely reassembled from their own bones beneath the triangular roof of the slaughter house. Hanging ominously at the center of the spectral scene is a leather golf bag, Dial’s eccentric and slightly comic symbol for the cow’s transformation into another stage of life, its rebirth. In a further twist, Dial has placed tiny mirrors in the eye sockets of one of his phantom cows to capture the reflections of everyone who comes near. In the end, the piece is a tongue-in-cheek memento mori, a reminder of the rural world and its passing, as well as a glimpse into the ultimate fate that awaits us all.


  • Title: Lost Cows
  • Creator: Thornton Dial
  • Creator Lifespan: 1928/2016
  • Creator Nationality: American
  • Creator Gender: Male
  • Creator Death Place: McCalla, Alabama
  • Creator Birth Place: Emelle, Alabama
  • Date Created: 2000/2001
  • Physical Location: Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Museum purchase and gift of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation
  • Location Created: McCalla, Alabama
  • Physical Dimensions: 76 1/2 x 91 x 52 in. (194.3 x 231.1 x 132.1 cm)
  • Subject Keywords: African American art, Black art
  • Type: Sculpture
  • Rights: © Thornton Dial / Photo: Stephen Pitkin, Pitkin Studio
  • External Link: https://www.soulsgrowndeep.org/artist/thornton-dial
  • Medium: Cow skeletons, steel, golf bag, golf ball, mirrors, enamel, and Splash Zone compound

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