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Memories & Inspiration: The Kerry and C. Betty Davis Collection of African American Art

January 24, 2020 - August 2, 2020

How are memories and cultural expressions preserved over time? Inspired by previous generations of African American art collectors, Kerry and Betty Davis began gathering a wide variety of works by African American artists. Today, their collection presents nearly 100 years of art, amassed over 35 years. The exhibition Memories & Inspiration: The Kerry and C. Betty Davis Collection of African American Art presents 62 selected works from this astonishing collection.

Through bold visual statements, the exhibition shows artistic responses to larger societal concerns around civil rights and social justice. Images of struggle, courage, and triumph over adversity are central to artists like James C. McMillan and Claude Clark. The exhibition also contains quieter celebrations of everyday life and labor. Jacob Lawrence’s graphite drawing #8 depicts a group of carpenters at work, part of a series celebrating the dignity of everyday labor. Beverly Buchanan’s sculpture Shack with Chair looks back at rural Southern daily life in the early 20th century, celebrating a simpler time with vivid contemporary colors.

Beyond representational subject matter, Memories & Inspirations explores how African American artists such as Sam Gilliam and Alma Woodsey Thomas contributed boldly to 20th-century abstract art in the United States. With strikingly diverse media and styles, these artworks respond to historical narratives and make bold creative statements, shaping 20th-century American art as a whole. For Gilcrease Museum, an institute of American history and art, this exhibition shows how African American artists provide critical perspectives on the American experience.

Learn more about the artists and themes in this exhibition with books from this reading list.

This exhibition is funded in part by Oklahoma Humanities (OH) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily represent those of OH or the NEH.

Memories & Inspiration: The Kerry and C. Betty Davis Collection of African American Art was organized and toured by International Arts & Artists, Washington, DC. Learn more:



Engage with this exhibition online with these downloadable exhibition cards!

Meet the Collectors
Longtime residents of Atlanta, Kerry Davis and his wife Betty do not fit the historical stereotype of art collector and connoisseur. Kerry is a retired mailman, and Betty is a former television news producer. They gladly gave up many ordinary comforts in order to live with extraordinary paintings, drawings, prints, and sculptures as their principal luxuries. Kerry and Betty did not search exclusively for well-known artists. Rather, they focused on the more meaningful task of gathering and preserving a range of artistic approaches to the black image. The result is an eclectic gathering of pieces crossing different mediums, subjects, and styles by a group of artists of the African Diaspora. Memories & Inspiration brings together an awe-inspiring selection of works, but it is their personal resonance—their connection to the Davises’ hopes, passions, and everyday lives—that gives the collection its unique power.