Sam "The Dot Man" McMillan's Shop/StudioSam "The Dot Man" McMillan (1926 - 2018)

Status

Non Extant

Address

701 Northwest Blvd, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, 27101, United States

Built

1980s to 2018

Visiting Information

Sam McMillan's shop no longer exists, but his work is held in private and public collections around the United States. 

About the Artist/Site

Sam “The Dot Man” McMillan was born in 1926 to a family of sharecroppers in Fairmont, North Carolina. He was the youngest of ten children. Work was a defining feature of his life, and he went on to hold myriad positions in agriculture, hospitality, industry, and business throughout his adulthood. This diverse and dynamic experience may have influenced the vision and savviness that led to his entry into the world of self-taught art when he was in this 60s. 

In the 1980s, McMillan worked as a handyman and groundskeeper for DeWitt Chatham Hanes (of Hanes Dye and Finishing Co, a plant located right across the street from McMillan’s shop/studio). Once when McMillan refinished a chair for her, Hanes recommended that McMillan try painting the furniture he resold with bright colors and interesting patterns, showing him examples of furniture that she had purchased from artists. McMillan latched onto this opportunity and immediately began painting furniture and other household objects he would scavenge from sidewalks and resell in his shop on West Northwest Boulevard in Winston-Salem. 

He began placing his vividly-painted pieces outside of his shop, attracting the attention of local collectors and folk art enthusiasts. One of these patrons was author and independent curator Tom Patterson who wrote of McMillan, “It was a sidewalk display of reconditioned furniture that first attracted me to Sam McMillan’s shop on West Northwest Boulevard. A friend and I stopped to have a look, and we ended up buying several wooden, ladder-back chairs that he had repaired. I think he charged us about $4 each for them. Sam proved to be a lively, high-energy character, and we enjoyed talking with him as much as we did browsing through his inventory.” 

McMillan was eventually commissioned by the then-director of Winston-Salem State University’s Diggs Gallery Brooke Anderson to paint furniture for her home. Anderson went on to introduce him to Lonnie Holley who visited his shop in 1992 and suggested he paint polka-dots on the ceiling. Recognizing good advice when he heard it, McMillan took the dot idea and ran with it–covering not only his surroundings with dots but also his attire. “The Dot Man” had arrived! 

McMillan’s network continued to grow, and he eventually visited the Outsider Art Fair in New York City in 1994–completely outfitted in dotted regalia–where he met additional collectors, artists, curators and more, all of whom received a business card and an invitation to visit. He also became a regular presenter at the Kentuck Festival of the Arts in Northport, Alabama where he manned a booth adjacent to the main gate and became “something of an icon for the festival,” according to Georgine Clarke, founder of Kentuck. 

McMillan continued producing his dazzling work at a frantic pace well into his 80s. Tom Patterson described McMillan in his obituary as, “A skilled entrepreneur and inveterate showman, he was a tenaciously hard worker and a savvy interpreter of incoming information, always ready to adopt useful suggestions and turn them to his advantage...He will certainly go down in the local annals as one of Winston-Salem’s most distinctive characters.” McMillan passed away in 2018 at the age of 92. His shop/studio in Winston-Salem no longer exists, but his work lives on in public and private collections around the country.

 

Sources:

Materials

painted furniture, found objects

Map & Site Information

701 Northwest Blvd
Winston-Salem, North Carolina, 27101 us
Latitude/Longitude: 36.1066588 / -80.2533756

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