Larger Type
Smaller Type

Search Collections


ca. 1975 William Dawson Born: Huntsville, Alabama 1901 Died: Chicago, Illinois 1990 acrylic and felt-tipped pen and ink on carved wood 13 x 3 1/8 in. (33.0 x 7.8 cm) Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of Chuck and Jan Rosenak 1981.136.1 Smithsonian American Art Museum
Luce Foundation Center, 3rd Floor, 27A

Luce Center Quote

“I had never seen a totem. I was in the park one day. I was carving and a fellow came up and said, ‘Oh, you make totems.’ But I didn’t know what they were. My wife looked it up in a book in the library, and sure enough, I was making totems.” The artist, quoted in Folk Art Messenger, Winter 1990

Luce Center Label

William Dawson carved stacks of faces from old table and chair legs before he even knew what a totem pole was. These pieces show his distinctive carved faces, with wide, staring eyes painted a stark white against different colored backgrounds. He made totems in a variety of heights depending on the piece of wood, and they can reach up to four feet.


Ethnic - African-American

Figure - fragment - face

Object - art object - totem pole


folk art


paint - acrylic