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Willis Bing Davis

Cultural leader Willis “Bing” Davis was born on June 30, 1937, in Greer, South Carolina to Verona Hargro Davis Buffington and Levonia “Lee” Davis, a coal truck driver and gospel singer. Growing up on Dayton, Ohio’s, East Side, Davis attended Washington Elementary School. An All-City basketball player at six feet four inches tall, Davis graduated from Wilbur Wright High School in 1955. Assisted by coach Dean Dooley, Davis entered DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, where his classmate was Vernon Jordan. Graduating in 1959, Davis taught art at Dayton’s Colonel White High School. He attended the Dayton Art Institute and earned his Master of Education degree from Oxford, Ohio’s, Miami University in 1967. Later, from 1975 to 1976, he pursued graduate studies at Indiana University.

Returning to DePauw University in 1970, Davis served as assistant dean of art and coordinator of Black Studies – as the only black faculty member. In 1973, Davis attended his first meeting of the National Conference of Artists (NCA) and made his first trip to Africa (Ghana). Davis was appointed assistant dean of the graduate school and associate professor of art at Miami University in 1976. That same year, Davis held his first one man show at the Studio Museum of Harlem. In 1978, Davis was invited to chair the Art Department and to become director of the new Paul Robeson Cultural and Performing Arts Center by Dr. Arthur E. Thomas of Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio. Davis, who served on Central State University’s faculty for twenty years, also was a visiting scholar at the University of Dayton and an artist in residence at Wright State University.

Davis has an illustrious record as an artist and curator including exhibitions at the American Craft Museum, the Renwick Gallery, Maryland Institute College of Art and Design, Savannah College of Art and Design, Anacotia Museum, National Museum of Art of Senegal, West Africa, United States Embassy Accra, Ghana, and Museum fur Angewandte Kunst in Frankfort, Germany. Davis was visiting artist-lecturer for Panafest 94 in Accra, Ghana. In 1997, Davis received the Ohio Art Educator of the Year Award. He received the 1999 Global Youth Peace and Tolerance Award and the 2001 Ohioan Pegasus Award. Davis is president of the board of directors of the National Conference of Artists. Davis also established EbonNia Gallery in the developing Wright/Dunbar neighborhood of Dayton’s West Side.

A hometown cultural hero, Davis has a grown daughter and lives in Dayton with his wife, Audrey.

Accession Number

A2006.044

Sex

Male

Interview Date

3/20/2006

Last Name

Davis

Maker Category
Middle Name

Bing

Organizations
Schools

Wilbur Wright High School

Washington Elementary School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Willis

Birth City, State, Country

Greer

HM ID

DAV17

Favorite Season

Spring

State

South Carolina

Favorite Vacation Destination

Accra, Ghana

Favorite Quote

Reach High And Reach Back. Always Walk With Dust On Your Shoes.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Ohio

Birth Date

6/30/1937

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Dayton

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Fried Chicken

Short Description

Mixed media artist and art professor Willis Bing Davis (1937 - ) became the director of the Paul Robeson Cultural and Performing Arts Center in 1979. Davis is president of the board of directors of the National Conference of Artists, and also established the EbonNia Gallery in the developing Wright/Dunbar neighborhood of Dayton's west side.

Favorite Color

Rust Orange

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Willis Bing Davis' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Willis Bing Davis lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Willis Bing Davis describes his mother's family background, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Willis Bing Davis describes his mother's family background, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Willis Bing Davis describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Willis Bing Davis shares how his parents met and their personalities

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Willis Bing Davis remembers the African American community in East Dayton, Ohio

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Willis Bing Davis shares his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Willis Bing Davis remembers the works of art made by members of his family

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Willis Bing Davis describes his mother's practice of shape note singing

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Willis Bing Davis describes the sights, sounds, and smells of his childhood in Dayton, Ohio

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Willis Bing Davis talks about playing basketball in his community

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Willis Bing Davis recalls the encouragement he received from his basketball coach, Dean Dooley, at Wilbur Wright High School

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Willis Bing Davis talks about developing his skills as an athlete and an artist

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Willis Bing Davis describes the athletic competition in East Dayton, Ohio

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Willis Bing Davis recalls visiting and enrolling at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Willis Bing Davis describes his experience at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Willis Bing Davis recalls working with HistoryMaker Vernon Jordan at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Willis Bing Davis remembers his mentors at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Willis Bing Davis recalls the artists in his neighborhood and his introduction to African American art

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Willis Bing Davis talks about his athletic achievements at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Willis Bing Davis describes his experience playing basketball in the Amateur Athletic Union

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Willis Bing Davis describes his approach to playing basketball in the Amateur Athletic Union

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Willis Bing Davis talks about recording with his doo-wop group and becoming a teacher after college, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Willis Bing Davis talks about recording with his doo-wop group and becoming a teacher after college, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Willis Bing Davis recalls becoming director of the art program for the Living Arts Center in Dayton, Ohio in 1967

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Willis Bing Davis lists some of the artists he brought to the Living Arts Center in Dayton, Ohio

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Willis Bing Davis shares his philosophy on teaching art

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Willis Bing Davis recalls the demise of the Living Arts Center in Dayton, Ohio and accepting a position at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Willis Bing Davis describes his experience on the faculty of DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Willis Bing Davis describes his first experience with the National Conference of Artists in 1973

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Willis Bing Davis remembers organizing his first trip to Africa in 1973

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Willis Bing Davis remembers his visit to Goree Island in Dakar, Senegal in 1973

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Willis Bing Davis remembers his visit to Accra, Ghana in 1973

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Willis Bing Davis describes temporarily accepting a position at Howard University in Washington, D.C. in 1976

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Willis Bing Davis describes becoming an assistant dean and associate professor at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio in 1976

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Willis Bing Davis recalls receiving his M.Ed. degree from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio in 1967

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Willis Bing Davis describes becoming chair of the art department at Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio in 1978

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Willis Bing Davis shares his highlights of working at Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Willis Bing Davis talks about the importance of continuing to practice and produce art

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Willis Bing Davis shares his philosophy of art

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Willis Bing Davis describes the influence of music and improvisation on his art

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Willis Bing Davis reflects on the concept of a Black Aesthetic

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Willis Bing Davis talks about William Komla Amoaku and the cultural life at Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Willis Bing Davis describes working with Arthur E. Thomas at Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Willis Bing Davis describes his impression of Arthur E. Thomas' character before he worked at Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Willis Bing Davis describes the establishment of his EbonNia Gallery in Dayton, Ohio, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Willis Bing Davis describes the establishment of his EbonNia Gallery in Dayton, Ohio, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Willis Bing Davis describes his plans for the future of the EbonNia Gallery in Dayton, Ohio

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Willis Bing Davis talks about his leadership in the National Conference of Artists

Tape: 6 Story: 10 - Willis Bing Davis talks about his experience with the National Endowment for the Arts

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Willis Bing Davis talks about his personal style

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Willis Bing Davis describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community. Pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Willis Bing Davis describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community. Pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Willis Bing Davis reflects upon his regrets

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Willis Bing Davis reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Willis Bing Davis talks about his family

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Willis Bing Davis talks about the Wright-Dunbar neighborhood in Dayton, Ohio

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Willis Bing Davis describes how he would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

5$4

DAStory

1$3

DATitle
Willis Bing Davis remembers his visit to Goree Island in Dakar, Senegal in 1973
Willis Bing Davis recalls becoming director of the art program for the Living Arts Center in Dayton, Ohio in 1967
Transcript
Now we're on our way to Africa (laughs). Now we got--let's, let's talk about the experience now. We talked about how it was done, now how--$$(Simultaneous) Yeah the experience, yeah the experience was one of the most meaningful things in my life. Matter of fact, going to Dakar, Senegal and having a chance to go, go, go to Goree Island [Ile de Goree] and, and sit in the slave castle and in the dungeons where our ancestors were held, was the most cleansing and inspiring experience I've ever had. To sit in that dungeon and feel the musk, and feel the residue of remains on, on my feet, under my feet. And just the cold darkness, it helped me to realize the evident, if not stark fear, the stark unknowing as to what's going to happen next. And not even able to imagine the voyage of the Middle Passage. And then stand in the doorway, what was the called "The Door of No Return," where the plank was placed onto the ship with the guns on the side to make sure you went. And to look across and know that I can't see land. If I could go straight, I'd probably go right to Atlanta [Georgia], or Geor-- South Carolina or Providence [Rhode Island]. It was, it was a, a, an experience that was cleansing too 'cause I wasn't make sounds, but tears were rolling down my cheek. And I never felt so close to Africa than when I was sitting in that room. And it just reaffirms my commitment and, and to not only serving and helping, but being the best I could be, but also to, to reaffirm the strength that I know we have as a people because I said, "I can't know which one of these doors of no return my ancestor came through. But somebody must have made it, or I would not be here. And to know what they've gone through for me to be standing, then I'm a strong person from strong people." And so it just gives me something I carry with me every place I go. I don't even have to talk about it now. I, I know I'm from greatness. Great architects, weavers, crafters, clay workers, builders of great sculptures and structures. So that trip for me just reaffirmed my whole existence to the point that I don't have to be boastful about it. But I now can walk and--down any street in any city in the world and hold my head high and have a sense of who I am. It, it was just phenomenal.$So, okay. So, so Colonel White [High School, now Thurgood Marshall High School in Dayton, Ohio], so you--now at this time had you--did you know anything about the NCA [National Conference of Artists] or anything like that?$$No, no, no. I didn't learn about that until I got back to, to DePauw [University in Greencastle, Indiana] to teach in '70 [1970]. When I came here in '59 [1959], what I would do if I saw in a magazine African American artists, I'd always cut it out and take it into school and, and use it for my own nurturing too. But I just got involved with teaching and I really enjoyed it. And, and fell into a wonderful art program that was very challenging. Students did very, very well. What I did do that was important for me, and actually changed my whole, whole life. When I talked about coming back from DePauw and having that western aesthetic background, the training of, of the western art. Wanted to be--know myself and wanted to be better prepared for my students who were coming from diverse areas. I started going to the library, researching Native American, Inuit up in Canada, Maya, Inca, Australian Aboriginal, and African art. And, and that sort of completed my education. I just started learning on my own and just studying and bringing that into the classroom. And as a result--and I started doing my own reading of African American art in every source I could find. And also African art. African art, I started to research and, and, and have that be a part of it. But, no yeah, that--I enjoyed that. I was only there six years, and that's when they started Living Arts in '67 [1967]. So I was there from '60 [1960] to '67 [1967]. Well in '66 [1966] is when the city [Dayton, Ohio] wrote that major proposal to get the million dollars from the U.S. Office of Education to start the Living Arts Program, which was an experimental program using art, music, dance, drama and humanities to develop human development. It really focused on adolescents' creativity using the art.$$So, so that started in 1967, the Living Arts Center.$$Nineteen sixty seven [1967], we wrote the proposal in '66 [1966], it was awarded and then Jack DeVilbiss, who'd also been a music professor at--instructor at, at Colonel White, took that job of writing that proposal for the city, and then being on the committee when we had sent it in and got funded, and six months later it was funded. He said, "Hey Bing, why don't you consider applying for the art directorship for this job?" 'Cause I was still at Colonel White and it was appealing enough to me that I, I took a gamble, 'cause I would lose my benefits and insurance, but it was a great opportunity. And so I, I resigned from Colonel White and I accepted the directorship of the art program for Living Arts in '67 [1967].