New African-American art exhibit at the David Owsley Museum of Art explores the hopes and passions of Kerry and Betty Davises


“Start with what you like.”

This was Kerry Davis’ first lesson for his wife, Betty Davis, when she began collecting works of art alongside her husband. When Kerry Davis began collecting art in the 1980s, it was the art of Jacob Lawrence, a 20th century artist known for his modernist depictions of everyday life and his epic tales of history and African-American historical figures, which sparked his interest in African-American art. .

“[Jacob Lawrence] did a lot of narrative paintings where he told stories about the Underground Railroad and “The Migration Series,” said Kerry Davis, retired mailman for the United States Postal Service. “It resonated with me the way he told stories. “

Kerry Davis grew up in Atlanta and traveled to Clark University in Atlanta to view the school’s collection of African American art. In the 1940s, Atlanta was one of the few places where African Americans could display their works of art. There he learned more about artists like Jacob Lawrence and Romare Bearden.

Because Lawrence traveled to Atlanta to showcase his artwork in the ’80s, Kerry Davis had the opportunity to meet Lawrence and said he was impressed with the way Lawrence spoke to him.

“Memories & Inspiration” will be open to the public until December 22. The opening hours of the David Owsley Museum of Art are 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday. The museum is closed on Sundays, Mondays and during school holidays.

“I never took an art class or anything, so my questions were all funny or childish, but he never spoke loudly to me. [and] I never got mad at myself, ”said Kerry Davis. “He could articulate what I was watching [and] explain these things to me, and that inspired me. I appreciated his work much more.

After Kerry Davis’ mother passed away in 1988, he said he wanted to use his insurance money to pay his bills and get out of debt. However, after being revealed to be in debt again, Davis decided to use the money to buy something that would always remind him of his mother.

“When I was discharged from the Air Force, I accepted a job as a carpenter and Jacob Lawrence was a carpentry tool collector,” said Kerry Davis. “Because I was a bit like [my mother’s] handyman, I bought [one of] Lawrence’s Builder Series Drawings.

Lawrence’s eighth piece in his ‘Builder Series’, along with more than 60 works selected from a collection of works of art collected over 35 years, are on display in Kerry’s African-American Art Exhibition and Betty Davis, “Memories & Inspiration,” in the David Owsley Museum of Art at Ball State.

Kerry and Betty Davis pictured at the Atlanta home in December 2020. Kerry Davis said one of her goals is to continue to bring “Memories and Inspiration” to institutions and museums that lack diversity. Kerry Davis, photo provided

“Memories & Inspiration” is organized by International Arts and Artists (IA&A), a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing intercultural understanding and exposure to the arts on an international scale through traveling exhibitions , programs and services to artists, artistic institutions and the public. This collection is also supported by Arts Alive funding from Ball State College of Fine Arts.

IA&A discovered Kerry and Betty Davis when their first art exhibition, “This Postman Collects: The Rapture of Kerry and Betty Davis”, was presented at Clark University in Atlanta from January 17 to July 15, 2016. Davis a stated that nearly 65% ​​of works of art were on display. in their current collection is from their first exhibition.

The title, “Memories & Inspiration,” was created by IA&A after a comment Davis said he made about when people would ask him about the artists featured in the collection. Because many artists were friends of the Davis’ and have passed away, Davis said the art in his collection brought back fond memories to him.

“When I see a particular painting, there are so many stories behind the painting about our relationship with different arts,” he said. “I am inspired by a lot of subjects. The things that are happening only give them strength.

The “Memories & Inspiration” collection has previously been presented at the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the University of Richmond in Richmond, Virginia, the Appleton Museum of Art in Ocala, Florida, and the Lyman Allyn Museum in New London, Connecticut . Ball State is the fifth location where the Davises art exhibition has been presented.

“When we visited different museums, the people who attended – even the children – were inspired,” said Betty Davis, former television news producer for ABC in Philadelphia. “Some are inspired by the collection – some are inspired to see African American artists differently. It is a wonderful memory for us of what we do.

The traveling exhibition features drawings, paintings, prints and sculptures by 20th century artists like Romare Bearden, Amalia Amaki, Sam Gilliam and others. “Memories & Inspiration” focuses on Black history and culture through religious aspects, social commentary, foundational jazz, abstract, performing and graphic arts. The exhibition opened to the public on September 23 and will remain open until December 22.

“When people see the works, [they] will have an opinion, ”said Kerry Davis. “I would go so far as to say that one of these images will resonate with [them] [or] [their] own culture and education. [The art ranges] from the 1930s to the Black Lives Matter movement.

As director of the David Owsley Museum of Art (DOMA), Robert LaFrance visited the “Memories & Inspiration” collection when she was at the Lyman Allyn Museum in May to measure the rooms and individual works of art. Because IA&A gave LaFrance some leeway, he said, it grouped some of the works to divide the exhibition into four sections: artists involved in the William E. Harmon Foundation Award, “Experiences & Remembrances”, “Courage & Social Justice” and “Non-objective and abstraction”.

“One of the most important things about the show is that it offers a wide variety of styles, artists and themes,” said LaFrance. “It’s a perfect introduction – and an ideal introduction – for students to the whole world of African American art.”

Robert LaFrance, director of the David Owsley Museum of Art, said the fourth section, “Non-objective and abstraction,” features work by Sam Gilliam, Alma Thomas and Romare Bearden. LaFrance said these artists relied on the “universal language” of art such as form, color, line and form in order to communicate universal messages. Sumayyah Muhammad, DN

At the DOMA, “Memories & Inspiration” is accompanied by another exhibition that explores the past, present and future of the museum in collecting African-American art by sculptors, printmakers and painters. The exhibition features paintings and prints by John Wesley Hardrick, Elizabeth Catlett, Richard Mayhew and Martin Puryear.

“It means a lot to us, for this particular collection, to come out into areas where people don’t necessarily have access to the major museums in the country that have more diversity in their exhibit,” said Kerry Davis. “I really wanted to go to communities that don’t have access to diversity. We are grateful that Ball State has accepted this exhibit to share with the community. “

Atlanta-born artist, curator, and educator Amalia Amaki met Kerry Davis while delivering mail to her art gallery, Sandler Hudson Gallery, in Atlanta. Featured in the “Memories & Inspiration” collection, Amaki’s multimedia piece, “JL: The Ring,” is a button-based construction combined with photography, found objects and embellishments that tell a story about life. of African-American boxer Joe Louis. .

Most of Amaki’s works explore the social, political and psychological implications of race and gender and share the life and culture of black women in the diaspora – people who have direct lineage with Africa – in the United States. United.

“[Black people have] been so scattered across the world, ”Amaki said. “We have a common starting point, even though we’re in these different cultures, and we’ve gone in different directions. I do a lot of things with women because one of the things that fascinates me is bringing what I feel is a kind of historical visibility to women.

Because diversity and inclusion is a big issue in our country, said Betty Davis, she hopes “Memories & Inspiration” will inspire a “thirst for more” diversity to be included in art. Kerry Davis said he hopes viewers don’t take it for granted that African American art is available across the continent.

“We must bring [‘Memories & Inspiration’] across the country, ”said Kerry Davis. “And, for people who don’t have the chance to see this work, [we hope they] get appreciation, be inspired and thirsty to petition in their own communities – and in their own places – to bring it back to their homes so they can show it to their children and they can show this next generation. ”

Contact Sumayyah Muhammad with comments at [email protected] or on Twitter @ sumayyah0114.

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