A Mississippi native, Dawson (1901-1990) moved to Chicago as a young man and worked in the produce industry. He is known for his three-dimensional wood carvings as well as paintings on wood and paper.

William Dawson's work was featured in the groundbreaking show, Black Folk Art in America:1930-1980, at the Corcoran in 1983, as well as several other shows and publications. His work is held in many private and museum collections.

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