Art Fair Insiders

Call for Artists, Making Money at Juried Art Fairs, Craft Shows and Festivals

We'll Miss our Dear Friend, Sonny Dalton

Merrill (Sonny) Dalton died, 78, on December 10 at Rose Arbor Hospice in Kalamazoo, MI, from complications of pneumonia. Sonny was a fixture in the art fair business for 41 years and only stopped participating in art fairs when his deteriorating lung condition, caused by a lifetime of welding, made it too hard for him.

Sonny was one of those people who made people want to attend art fairs. His ingenious outsider constructions of firetrucks, reindeer, people, trains, etc., made people smile. Men would stop in their tracks to examine their intricacy and then they would meet the man behind the sculptures, a funny, humble person who loved what he did and loved being at the shows meeting everyone. He and his wife, Roxie, probably were friends with more people in this business than anyone.

My husband, Norm Darwish, would go to his booth at the shows just to hang out because there was so much entertainment going on. We lived near him and traveled to many shows together. I

remember when we visited him in the hospital outside of Baltimore because he had got e. coli at the Timonium fairgrounds; I remember driving in tandem to Denver and him singing "Rocky Mountain High" over the CB; I remember him nearly selling out at Columbus Winterfair; I remember all the artists singing happy birthday to him when he turned 70 in Indianapolis before the show opened. I remember the throngs around his booth at many shows as people clamored for his pieces. He did his last show in December 2009 at the Great Lakes Art Fair and people were thrilled to see him. He was a celebrity. 

His work is in many museums, including the Barber Motorsports Museum in Birmingham, Alabama, that exhibits his largest piece the "Rat Bike" -- a motorcycle tricked out like none you have ever seen that was commissioned for the museum.


Here's a little piece he made for me for my 60th birthday: "Connie directing an art fair"

Sonny, we will really miss you.

He is survived by his wife Roxie and their three daughters Jenny, Amy and Julie and seven grandchildren. Please email me for Roxie's address, or send messages through the Adams Funeral Home, 502 W. Michigan Ave., Paw Paw, MI  49079. Viewing will be at the Adams Funeral Home in Paw Paw, 12/14 from 5-7 pm. Graveside services will be at the Riverside Cemetery on December 15 at 1 pm.

Don't know Sonny? Visit this link, lots of good stories: http://www.artfairinsiders.com/main/search/search?q=Sonny+Dalton

I know many of you knew Sonny. Please share your stories in the comments below.

 

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Comment by Barry Bernstein on December 13, 2011 at 8:07pm

Jack, that was an excellent video and tribute to Sonny.  I linked it to my FB page if you don't mind.

Comment by Connie Mettler on December 13, 2011 at 7:37pm

I was talking to his wife, Roxie, yesterday and I suggested we all bring our tents to the gravesite and have an encampment. Looks like it might be 50 degrees... we can do this!

Comment by Connie Mettler on December 13, 2011 at 7:33pm

Great piece, Jack. Thank you.

Comment by Jack Stoddart on December 13, 2011 at 7:02pm
Comment by Jack Stoddart on December 13, 2011 at 6:28pm

                                        Sonny Dalton

Sonny died Saturday...I am diminished yet again. He was a better man than most, for sure a better man than me. I never saw him blink or stare or whine about the weather, I never saw him perch upon the shoulders of some fake artist, or complain about some fake art show or hold a grudge. I never saw him smoke a joint, I never saw him stop. His work was a mans work, I guess that makes me piggish...his art was his alone, you didn’t rip Sonny off, he was unripable.  He created cold hard spiritual objects that reflected his face and his hands and his feet.  His subjects jumped like rope, his objects disturbed and amazed, his objects changed the people who stood before them. He gave me a small piece one day, a little man holding a camera. He wanted me to have something of his. God if there is one could have left him a bit longer....what the fuck. 

Hippie

Comment by Connie Mettler on December 13, 2011 at 4:04pm

From my emails: 

--What a shame. He was quite a character. The young guys  just can't hold a candle to him. - Andy Shea

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Thanks for sending the notice of Sonny's death. Since we hadn't seen him for a few years we always wondered how he was doing. I think of him every time I pass one of his pieces that we have. He certainly brought a lot of pleasure to people's lives.

Best,

Kathleen Eaton

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That is sad beyond words

a true craftsman

a true friend

and a cool old fucker with no bullshit in him

I will cry for him - Jack Stoddart

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I remember umpty nine years ago at an Ann Arbor Art Fair when Sonny asked me if he should quit his day job and work full time at his art.  My response - "go for it."  Several years later, also at another AA Fair, I asked him if he was ever sorry that he did it.  Answer "Never! -- Mel Sachs

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SONNY WAS ONE OF MY FAVORITE PEOPLE AT THE SHOWS. HE WAS ALWAYS ENTERTAINING EVERYONE BUT INSIDE HE WAS A REALLY A WONDERFUL CARING PERSON. A GREAT LOSS TO OUR COMMUNITY. -- Carol Caron

Comment by STANFORD H BAKER on December 13, 2011 at 12:27am

a man never to be forgotten, one of the first

Comment by Connie Mettler on December 12, 2011 at 9:50pm

I always loved his birds in the cages -- so cool.

Comment by Larry Berman on December 12, 2011 at 8:00pm

We were next to each other at Jinx Harris Londonderry Faire 1988. I bought this piece from him at the end of the show. I liked him and the piece enough that I still have it 23 years later.


Larry Berman
http://BermanGraphics.com
412-401-8100

Comment by Camille Ronay on December 12, 2011 at 9:33am

Sonny was a one-of-a-kind collectible. Many years ago, we looked forward to running into him & Roxy at shows. Probably the last time my husband got to talk to him was on the side of I-75 in N GA. We were zipping off somewhere and passed Sonny's cube van. Bill Ronay signaled him to the side of the road; and, they stood talking for 15 or 20 minutes. That was in the early '90s; but to this day, we still talk about Sonny Dalton. What a guy!


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