A day after he was asked to create a piece of commemorative artwork for the Schuster Center, Willis “Bing” Davis was already hard at work.
The stipulation was that the piece be large enough to be seen from all three lobbies of the Wintergarden and that it be “vibrant.”
The striking contemporary mural — Schuster Spirit Dance — has been eight months in the making and will be unveiled at the Gala Concert on March 1.
One of the Miami Valley’s best-known personalities, Davis has been a visual artist, teacher and community activist for more than three decades and seeks to meld his own cultural heritage with contemporary art techniques. His work was on display at the Dayton Art Institute in November 2010 in an exhibit entitled “Marking the Past/Shaping the Present: The Art of Willis “Bing” Davis.” At the same time, the University of Dayton displayed Davis’ photographs, masks and ceramics.
Davis said the new commission is part of his Ancestral Spirit Dance series that came out a trip to Africa in 1973.
“It’s influenced by African textiles, African-American quilts and black music,” he explains. “These pieces are a visual prayer of thanks for those on whose shoulders I stand.”
The new 30-foot-by-5-foot work — the largest Davis has ever created — is a tribute to Benjamin and Marian Schuster, whose $8 million gift helped ensure the 2,300-seat theater would be a world-class venue with state-of-the-art acoustics and technical capabilities. It will be the first permanent piece of art in the venue.
“It’s quite an honor,” he said.
Davis said his inspiration also came from the building itself — the environment in which the piece will hang. Crafted of oil pastels on museum ragboard, the mural reflects the warm hues of the Wintergarden’s wood and carpeting. The zig-zags in the design reference the Schuster staircase.
The piece is being created in nine sections on a 30-foot long table in Davis’ studio on West Third Street. It will be transported to downtown Dayton in mid-February and then assembled in its new location.
Ken Neufeld, president and CEO of the Victoria Theatre Association, said Davis has a strong relationship with the organization through the Visual Voices program and was an obvious choice for the commission.
Davis serves as the curator for the annual Visual Voices art exhibit that celebrates Black History Month by showcasing local African-American artists and a variety of art forms.
“There is a vibrancy and joy in the piece that reflects the power the arts have on our community,” Neufeld said when making the announcement.