Exhibit by late artist Sam “The Dot Man” McMillan opens at SECCA

Larry McMillan, son of Sam “The Dot Man” McMillan, stands in front of a statue of his father from the collection of the Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County.

Exhibit by late artist Sam “The Dot Man” McMillan opens at SECCA
February 28
00:50 2019

By Judie Holcomb-Pack

Some artists have followers; the late Sam McMillan, known as The Dot Man for his distinctive painting style, has a fan club.

An exhibit of his work on loan from collectors – and friends and family of the artist – opened Thursday evening, Feb. 21, at the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art (SECCA) and attendees wore their personal items of clothing that Sam had given to them and spoke about pieces that they were proud to own. And it seemed like everyone had a story to tell.

Wendy Earle, curator of contemporary art at SECCA, mentioned that the show was a commemoration of Sam’s extraordinary talent and contained pieces from private collections. An earlier “soft opening” was held and received enthusiastic response. Over 125 people attended the opening reception. Earle commented that Sam McMillan was “a little gem in our community.”

Earle noted that McMillan was a self-taught artist, considered an “outsider” artist, as he had no formal training. He was born June 22, 1926, in Robeson County, and didn’t start painting until he was in his 60s. He moved to Winston-Salem in 1977 and worked for DeWitt Chatham Hanes, who encouraged him to pursue painting. He became a prolific artist and his work has been exhibited in the Outsider Art Fair in New York City, museums in North Carolina, Texas, and elsewhere, as well as the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum.

Attending the opening were Sam’s son, Larry McMillan, and granddaughter, Kimberly. His son noted that his father was always creative and refinished furniture and repurposed items he found. His granddaughter said her grandfather “liked colors,” and added, “Anything my grandfather could put his hands on, he would paint.” She carried a purse with a UNC design that he had painted for her. She said she spent a lot of time with him growing up and said he would paint with his grandchildren, sharing his passion for creating.

Robert Moyer was a “walking exhibit,” dressed for the occasion in bib overalls painted by Sam and carrying a painted cane. He contributed 14 pieces from his collection to the exhibit. He spoke briefly about Sam to the attendees and said what he remembers most about Sam was his generosity. He said, “Sam never hesitated to give his art away,” and any time someone needed an item for an auction or fundraiser, Sam generously donated one of his creations.

Moyer wasn’t the only person attending the opening who was wearing Sam’s art. Brothers Calvin and Lee Cox sported ties with the signature Dot Man design, another attendee wore Dot Man shoes, and numerous people wore clothing painted by Sam.

McMillan died in 2018 at the age of 92. Looking around at all the people enjoying the exhibit, his granddaughter said with a smile, “He loved attention. He would have loved this.”

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