Through April 5th, the High Museum in Atlanta is featuring a traveling exhibit of art by Ulysses Davis, who was a Savannah barber and wood carver, and whose art isn’t as well known outside the South as it probably should be – but that’s going to change once the exhibit leaves for the American Folk Art Museum in NYC later this year.
The first piece Ulysses ever sold was this one below – Jesus on the Cross – in 1960 to Virginia Kiah. She was a portraitist and had a museum in her home where she put it on display:
It wasn’t until 1976 that Ulysses Davis’ works got more attention, when he was included in the “Missing Pieces: Georgia Folk Art 1770-1976” exhibit at the Atlanta History Center. From the AHC, the exhibit went on to the Library of Congress in Washington, and it was while visiting there, Ulysses Davis presented First Lady Rosalynn Carter with a woodcarving of her husband. He actually whittled a bust of each of the presidents up to George H.W. Bush.
Ulysses Davis passed away in 1990 while working on a large piece called the ‘Garden of Eden’ but had already instructed his family upon his death to sell his works (he tried to keep them all together in his barber shop, as he thought they were best viewed that way) to the King-Tisdell Cottage Foundation, which is part of the Beach Institute. It was built as a missionary school for black students back in 1867 and today, they do tours, lectures, and exhibitions of black culture in Savannah.
About 117 of his over 320 works are on display in the traveling exhibit. The AJC has an article about the show here, and the exhibit’s accompanying book, The Treasure of Ulysses Davis, Sculpture from a Savannah Barbershop, is available at Amazon.