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The Ulysses Davis Folk Art Collection

Housed in two galleries at the Beach Institute African American Cultural Center 


Native Savannahian Ulysses Davis (1913-1990) cherished the dream that most of his life's work created over sixty years would be preserved in a museum and made accessible to the public and especially to children. He, however, had not waited to be discovered, and in the tradition of "making do" had created a make-shift art gallery around the walls of his West Savannah barbershop. Here he had, as he put it "cut hair" for nearly fifty years as he and his beloved wife Elizabeth raised nine children. The opening of Ulysses Davis, American Folk Artist is a fulfillment of that dream.

  The Davis Collection, consisting of 238 sculptures, is the work of a man who was a genius with wood sculpture and design. Self-taught, he learned to master the tools of his trade. His background as a railroad blacksmith's assistant enabled him to make many of the tools he later used in woodcarving. A modest man, he had called himself simply a whittler, one who carves sticks and wood. But he was a brilliant sculptor, an artist of the first degree. Blessed with a fertile, rich imagination and, of course, splendid skill of hand, he chose to earn his income mainly from barbering so that the majority of his life's work would not be sold widely and could be preserved in one place where it could be viewed by the public.

  Ulysses Davis, American Folk Artist is housed in two galleries of the historic 1867 Beach Institute, the first building constructed for African American education in Savannah. Since only a portion of the Davis Collection is shown in this exhibition, other works will be seen in future revolving exhibits. Also, portions of the Davis Collection will travel nationally.

  This permanent installation represents a collaboration between the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games Cultural Olympiad and the King-Tisdell Cottage Foundation, and has been supported by a major grant from ACOG Cultural Olympiad, with additional support from the The Coca Cola Company, Savannah Coca Cola Bottling Company, The Savannah College of Art and Design, and Carson Products.

--Carroll Greene, Curator of the Ulysses Davis Folk Art Collection

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