Fallen Through The Cracks

Fallen Through The Cracks – Black Artists in History: Ulysses Davis

Fallen Through The Cracks – Black Artists in History: Ulysses Davis

Fallen Through The Cracks – Ulysses Davis

Ulysses Davis

#FallenThroughTheCracks – Ulysses Davis was born on January 13, 1913, in the railroad town of Fitzgerald, GA. He was an African-American barber and self-taught sculptor best known for his carvings of historical figures such as a set of mahogany busts of all the presidents (through George H. W. Bush). After being laid off by the railroad company in the 1950s, he opened the Ulysses Barber Shop in Savannah, Georgia, which doubled as an informal art gallery displaying his wood carvings.

Davis’s artistic process was marked by a distinct approach: he often eschewed preliminary sketches, preferring to shape his creations directly from the wood using hatchets, and band saws, and later refining them with chisels and knives. His toolkit was a testament to his ingenuity, featuring self-made tools that reflected the metalworking skills he honed as a young railroad blacksmith. Occasionally, he would employ barbering tools like scissors for intricate textural details. His sculptures, often embellished with shoe polish, rhinestones, and beads, showcased a unique blend of his diverse skills.

Ulysses Davis, Martin Luther King, 1968 © Ulysses Davis

Beyond his famous carvings of historical figures, Davis’s oeuvre included a wide array of subjects, from realistic animals to imaginative depictions of African tribal leaders and mythical creatures. His artistic vision was an amalgamation of various African motifs, contributing to a unique interpretation of African-American art.

Throughout his life, Davis created over 300 pieces, using materials as varied as shipyard lumber, donated wood, and standard lumber yard finds. His preference for working directly with the wood, carving, and refining without preliminary models, remained a consistent and defining aspect of his artistry. Ulysses Davis passed away in 1990 in Savannah, GA.

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