ART: Ulysses Davis @ American Folk Art Museum

Now thru September 6 @ American Folk Art Museum: Ulysses Davis (1914 – 1990) was a Savannah, Georgia, barber who created a diverse but unified body of highly refined sculpture that reflects his deep faith, humor, and dignity. His carvings were featured in the seminal 1982 exhibition “Black Folk Art in America, 1930 – 1980” at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., where they were applauded as important examples of African American vernacular art. Because he wanted his work to stay together after he died, Davis rarely sold his sculptures. He said, “They’re my treasure. If I sold these, I’d be really poor.” As a result, the carvings have had little exposure outside Savannah, particularly since his death, and Davis is little known outside folk art circles. In 1988, Davis received a Georgia Governor’s Award in the Arts.

Photo: Peter Harholdt


For the more than three hundred carved wooden figures, furniture pieces, and reliefs he created during his lifetime, Davis used shipyard lumber, pieces donated by his friends, or wood he bought at lumberyards. He almost never made preliminary drawings or models but reduced the mass with a hatchet (and, later, a band saw) before refining the form with a chisel and knives, many of which he fabricated himself. To add textural detail, he sometimes used tools of this barbering trade, such as the blade of his hair clippers. Davis’s sculptures, which range in height from six to more than forty inches, can be divided into major categories: portraits of American and African leaders, religious images, patriotism, works influenced by African forms, fantasy, flora and fauna, love, humor, and abstract decorative o
bjects. The exhibition includes the group regarded as the artist’s masterwork: a series of carved busts of forty U.S. presidents. (source)

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