Retracing a journey through the african artwork of DePauw alumus "Bing" Davis


Through the mix of colors and installations, Willis "Bing" Davis '59 intertwines his African roots and African American culture to display his long journey as an art educator to DePauw's campus.
Davis is back again at his alma mater to showcase 46 years of creativity through art and his journeys in his exhibit entitled "On the Shoulders of Ancestors: The art of Willis Bing Davis." The retrospective work is open to the public now through Tuesday, Oct.15. Davis is happy to finally share part of his collection with a place he calls home.
"It's been several years in the making... so it really started back in '98 hoping to be able to bring it [the show] for my fiftieth anniversary but it didn't work."
Marking this exhibit as his first solo show, Davis displays mixed media work from 1966 to 2013, inspired by an African theme. Craig Hadley, curator of exhibitions and university collections, says that this is not Davis' first appearance at the Peeler Art Center.
"I asked nine of Richard Peeler's former students to show their ceramic works in the exhibition and Bing Davis was one of Richard Peeler's original students," Hadley said.
Davis knew Peeler personally for many years, so being chosen for last year's spring exhibit "Looking Back/ Looking Forward: Richard E. Peeler and His Students" was significant.
"Richard Peeler was my advisor, my ceramics instructor, art education instructor and also a close friend he came to be," Davis said.
Davis also worked alongside Peeler in 1970 when he became the first African American professor to teach at DePauw. "I was teaching there half time in the Art Department and also coordinating the first Black studies program at DePauw," said Davis. "So I came there and was teaching there from 1970 to 1976."
The artist is expected to deliver a public lecture at Peeler on Tuesday, Sept 12 at 4:15 p.m.. Davis believes it's important to interact with the students here on campus since past guest lecturers were instrumental and inspiring in building his art career.
"I just learned to give back when I was on that campus [DePauw] - I can recall Dr. Percy Julian and Russell Freeland and others who came to the campus and always had time to have dialogue and interact and have Q and A with student about life was like when they were there."
Hadley explained how knowing the back-story behind the pieces in the exhibit would help spectators understand the message Davis is trying to portray through the ancestral pieces on display.
"It really encapsulates a lot of the personal struggles that he's had, not only just as an African American but also as an artist," Hadley said.
Davis uses his African roots to show his appreciation of traditional African textiles in his group of works entitled "Ancestral Spirit Dance."
"I'm blending my tremendous love and appreciation for traditional African textiles," Davis said.
When Davis is not traveling with his exhibits, he teaches, trains other teachers and works in his studio with his wife. Davis has a passion for giving back to his community through educating kids about art and will be helping upcoming artists in Dayton, Ohio in the near future.
Hadley hopes that students will learn and become exposed to different types of art when they go to view Davis' pieces.
"I hope that students come away with a greater appreciation of how ancestry and their own culture could tie in with artistic creations."