July 25 – ALBANY – One might assume that Atlanta-based Kerry Davis might be a dabbler in the arts himself, given his impressive collection of African-American art. One would be wrong.
“I can’t even draw a straight line,” Davis says ruefully.
Perhaps Davis then visits art shows and uses his keen eye for art to gather suggested pieces that could add to his collection? Wrong again.
“My life as a collector is similar to Forest Gump,” Davis says, eyes twinkling. “Without trying too hard, I encountered some of the greatest African American artists in history.”
One last try: Surely Davis is part of a pipeline that has taken him to artists – and them to him – that will allow him to expand his stunning collection, guided by what is probably a long-held desire to own significant work and to estimate.
“I had just bought my first home and needed something to hang on the walls,” says Davis of beginning his collection. “I wanted something that reflected my culture, so I started buying African American art. Oddly enough, my fascination grew a lot because on my route I was delivering mail to museums in and around Atlanta, and it turns out there were a lot of artists on my route, too.”
Davis shies away from exact numbers or values, but concedes his collection now numbers “over 300 pieces” and is “frighteningly valuable.” Some of these pieces are by artists whose notoriety has risen significantly in the 38 years that he and his wife, C. Betty Davis, have collected the art, and several such pieces are on view in the exhibition entitled Now on Albany State University’s “Memories and Inspiration: The African American Art Collection of Kerry and C. Betty Davis.”
The exhibition, which includes 67 exhibits and is set to be booked across the country for the next five years, is “an incredible opportunity” for the Albany State arts professor, according to Charles “Chazz” Williams, associate dean of Albany State’s College of Arts and Sciences the historically black university.
“There’s art (in the exhibit) from the 1930s to the present,” Williams said. “And for our university — for an HBCU — that’s incredibly important. As an art lover, I can appreciate these works…I know their meaning and I understand them. But I can never appreciate the experience of these works as much as an African American can.
“The exhibition has only been here a week and we don’t have classes right now, but more than 25 of our students came to see the works. And it’s easy to see that they’re excited.”
Kerry Davis served four years in the Air Force after graduating from high school and upon her return to civilian life trained as a carpenter in an Urban League program. But when a job offer — “with guaranteed work and these benefits” — came with the US Postal Service, he jumped at the chance. 34 years later, in 2012, he retired.
Along the way, Davis was introduced to the woman who would become his wife, a Philadelphia-born and raised television producer who had split from her and become a freelance marketer. Today she owns her own marketing company in Atlanta, KerB.
“Interestingly, Kerry and I were introduced by friends, and on our first date, he took me over to his home to see his artwork,” said Betty Davis. “I’ve always visited museums in Philly, so obviously I was impressed by this man who owned his own ‘museum.’
“But he’s right, there just wasn’t a lot of African American art in the public museums. But over the years our home has become like a museum for our children and their friends, our neighbors, church groups. I love that Kerry has been teaching young people about the art of our culture over the years.”
The Memories and Inspiration exhibit is open to the public Monday through Thursday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. in Albany State. Groups or events can be arranged after hours by contacting Williams at email@example.com.
The Davises admit their collecting has declined significantly in recent years, in part because the artists whose work they value most are “largely out of our reach in terms of price.” But that doesn’t mean the couple won’t continue to use their collection to educate about African American art and artists.
“We are now well on our way to maybe starting to identify a few communities where we can donate a portion of our collection,” said Kerry Davis. “It has been a privilege to be able to share these works with others and I definitely believe that art is there to be shared.”
The Davises’ Memories and Inspiration exhibit will be on view in Albany State through August 26. Williams encouraged visitors who wish to view the exhibit at the Joseph W. Holley Fine Arts Center to park in the parking lot adjacent to the Albany State Football Stadium and walk to the arts center.