FAIRMONT — Artist Sam McMillan is being remembered by residents here as a colorful character.
McMillan, most commonly known as “The Dot Man,” died Aug. 22 in Winston-Salem after an artistic career that started late in life but reached the Smithsonian Institute..
E.A. Neelon, a Fairmont native and friend of McMillan, said he painted everywhere.
“He painted everything, his house, his car, even his clothes,” Neelon said. “Of course, dots were his trademark.”
The relationship between the artist and his hometown grew through visits McMillan made to Fairmont after his art made him famous.
“He was as generous as he was talented,” Neelon said. “He always came to visit with my mother. Every time he came, he brought her a piece of art for her collection of his work.”
McMillan was once the guest artist during a fundraiser for Communities in Schools in Lumberton.
“His artwork is all over Robeson County,” Neelon said. “He was one of those people who never forgot where he came from.”
His success in the world of art wasn’t the only reason McMillan is remembered fondly in Fairmont.
“We loved Sam. Everybody in Fairmont loved him,” said Sissy Grantham, whose father John grew up with the artist. “He was a wonderful guy and a wonderful friend. Yes, he was a very colorful character.”
McMillian, who died at age 92, left school in the sixth grade and worked in tobacco warehouses and in other similar jobs in his hometown. His art career began after he moved to Winston-Salem more than 30 years ago.
Much like Grandma Moses, an artist who started painting in her 70s, McMillan’s career took off in his 60s. The beginning of his art career began after seeing another artist being paid well for painting bed frames. McMillan was given an opportunity to paint — and never looked back.
“I had never painted a picture before, so painting dots was all I knew how to do,” McMillan said in an interview with the Winston-Salem Journal.
Hs work has been displayed in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., and the African American Museum in Dallas.
“This is a guy who can’t read, can’t write, but traveled around the country to sell his art at art fairs and was very successful at it,” Robert Moyer, a longtime friend of McMillan’s, said in the artist’s obituary in the Winston-Salem Journal.
“What made him special was the man himself,” said Dave Clark, of the Small Museum of Folk Art in Pittsboro. “He was amenable to the patrons of art. I believe his personality drove interest.”
“Uncle Sam was a character. He loved his artwork, and, of course he loved his dots,” nephew David Julius Ford said in the obituary in the Winston-Salem Journal. “He meant a lot to the Winston-Salem community and to the art world.”
The Dot Man used his work to share his philosophy — “If We All Hold Hands, We Can’t Fight.” The artist’s studio blended bright colors and simple decor that showed his ideas for hope, and positivity for the future.
His folksy non-traditional art was about ideas on how to get along with fellow humans, and thoughts about capitalism. Painting was a way to get past his fear for the future of our country. The ideas behind the art were anything but common.
“I don’t care; I’m ready to do something for all races of people,” McMillan said in the Winston-Salem Journal. “See, what it is, somebody has got to get up and speak. And it might kill me, it might not do anything to me … but if somebody doesn’t do something, we’re gone.”