The papers of the artist Gene Davis measure 17.7 linear feet and date from 1920-2000, with the bulk of materials dating from 1942-1990. Papers document Davis's personal life and his career as an artist and educator, as well as his career as a journalist in the 1940s and 1950s, through biographical materials, correspondence, interviews, business records, estate records, writings by and about Gene Davis, printed materials concerning Davis's art career, personal and art-related photographs, and artwork by Davis and others.
Scope and Contents:
The papers of the artist Gene Davis measure 17.7 linear feet and date from 1920-2000, with the bulk of materials dating from 1942-1990. Papers document Davis's personal life and his career as an artist and educator, and to a lesser degree his early career as a journalist in the 1940s and 1950s, through biographical materials, correspondence, interviews, business records, estate records, writings by and about Gene Davis, printed materials concerning Davis's art career, personal and art-related photographs, and artwork by Davis and others.
Biographical materials include birth and death certificates, awards, biographical narratives by Gene Davis and others, CVs, résumés, personal documents from Davis's family and childhood, documents related to his work as a White House correspondent, documentation related to his death and memorial service, and papers for the family pets. A video documentary about Davis by Carl Colby is found on one videocassette.
Correspondence is mainly of a professional nature, and correspondents include gallery and museum curators, private art collectors, publishers, fellow artists, art educators, academics, and students. Letters document exhibitions, sales, book projects, teaching jobs, visits to studios, local art community events in the Washington, D.C. area, and other projects. Significant correspondents include Gene Baro, Douglas Davis, Clement Greenberg, Gerald Nordland, William Seitz, Alma Thomas, and Donald Wall. Interviews and lectures include sound recordings and transcripts. Many of the interviews were broadcast or published. Also found is a single lecture by Davis given in 1969 at the National Collection of Fine Arts, Smithsonian Institution, entitled "Contemporary Painting." Sound recordings are found for three of the interviews and for the lecture, on 4 sound reels and 1 sound cassette.
Business records include artwork documentation, price lists, sales records, contracts, financial and legal records, gallery and museum files documenting sales and exhibitions, records related to the construction of Davis's home studio in 1970, and a few teaching records. Estate records mainly reflect Florence Davis's efforts to document the works of her husband, and to manage their exhibition, promotion, and sale after his death in April 1985. Estate records include an inventory of artworks, documentation of gifts to museums, correspondence, legal, and financial records. Writings include notes, drafts of essays, artist statements, and articles by Davis, and many articles by others about Davis. Several of Davis's articles reflect specifically on the Washington, D.C. art scene. Also found are drafts of monographs on Davis including one by Donald Wall (1975) and one by Steven Naifeh (1982). Records of Naifeh's book also include photographs of all black and white and color plates from the published book. Among the writings are also notes and research files of Percy North, who worked on an update to Naifeh's 1982 bibliography after Davis's death.
Printed materials include annual reports of museums, published arts-related calendars, auction catalogs, brochures from organizations with which Davis had some affiliation, exhibition announcements and invitations, exhibition catalogs, magazine articles, newspaper clippings, newsletters, posters, press releases, and other published material. Photographs include personal photographs of Gene and Florence Davis and their families, portraits of Gene Davis, photographs of Gene Davis with artworks and working in the studio, Davis' art classes and students, installations of site-specific works, conceptual and video works, exhibition openings, and photographs of artwork, both installed in exhibitions and individually photographed. Found among the photographs are also four videocassettes documenting the Gene Davis retrospective as installed at the Smithsonian National Museum of American Art in 1987.
Artwork includes photographs, drawings, moving images, and documentation of conceptual art. Works by Davis include documentation of the 1969 "Giveaway" with Douglas Davis and Ed McGowin, "The Artist's Fingerprints Except for One which belongs to someone else," documentation of his "Air Displacement" happening, a short film entitled "Patricia," and a video entitled "Video Puzzle." Other moving images include four reels of film of Davis's stripe paintings, and other experiments with motion picture film and photographs.
The collection is arranged as 8 series.
Series 1: Biographical Material, 1930-1987 (0.6 linear feet; Boxes 1, 17)
Series 2: Correspondence, 1943-1990 (1.7 linear feet; Boxes 1-3)
Series 3: Interviews and Lectures, 1964-1983 (0.3 linear feet; Box 3)
Series 4: Business and Estate Records, 1942-1990 (1.6 linear feet; Boxes 3-5, 17, OV 20)
Series 5: Writings, 1944-1990 (2 linear feet; Boxes 5-6, 17, OV 19)
Series 6: Printed Material, 1942-1990 (5.5 linear feet; Boxes 7-11, 17-18, OV 20, FC 35-37)
Series 7: Photographs, 1920-2000 (3.8 linear feet; Boxes 11-15, 17, OV 19)
Series 8: Artwork, 1930-1985 (2.2 linear feet; Boxes 15-16, 18, FC 21-34)
Biographical / Historical:
Gene Davis (1920-1985) was a Washington, D.C.-based artist and educator who worked in a variety of media, including painting, drawing, collage, video, light sculpture, and conceptual art. Davis is best known for his vertical stripe paintings and his association with the Washington Color School.
Davis was born in 1920 in Washington, D.C. and began his career as a writer. In his twenties he wrote pulp stories and worked as a journalist, reporting for United Press International and serving as a White House correspondent for Transradio Press Service during the Truman administration. Later, he worked in public relations for the Automobile Association of America. A self-taught artist, Davis began painting while still working full-time as a writer, influenced by the prevailing abstract expressionist artists of the time, his frequent visits to the Corcoran Gallery and Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., and by his friend and mentor, Jacob Kainen. His first one-man show was held in the lobby of the Dupont Theater in Washington in 1952. He had a drawing accepted in the Corcoran Area Show in 1953, and won several local art prizes in the 1950s. He began showing work regularly in galleries around Washington, such as the Watkins Gallery at American University, the Gres Gallery, and the Henri Gallery, and had solo exhibitions at Jefferson Place Gallery in 1959 and 1961. Many of the painters who made up what became known as the Washington Color School also showed there, including Kenneth Noland, Howard Mehring, and Sam Gilliam. In 1965, the Washington Gallery of Modern Art held a seminal exhibition entitled Washington Color Painters, which included Davis, Noland, Mehring, Morris Louis, Thomas Downing, and Paul Reed.
Davis began showing outside of Washington regularly in the 1960s, including the Poindexter and Fischbach galleries in New York City, and in several important group shows at museums such as the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. He had three works shown in the 1964 exhibition Post-Painterly Abstraction, organized by the influential art critic Clement Greenberg at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. In the late 1960s, he began teaching art classes at the Corcoran School, and spent the summer of 1969 as artist in residence at Skidmore College's "Summer in Experiment" program.
Davis experimented with form continuously throughout his career, including a period of conceptual work in the late 1960s. In 1969 he participated in the "Giveaway," organized by Douglas Davis and Ed McGowin, in which multiple copies of a Davis painting were given away to invited guests in a gesture intended to subvert the art market. Davis also began experimenting with scale, creating a series of tiny paintings he called "Micro-paintings," which were exhibited at Fischbach Gallery in 1968. Around this time he also began working with film and video, recruiting models from his art classes to enact tightly choreographed movement pieces that played with rhythm and interval. Convinced by a lawyer that his videos were a liability without having obtained releases from the models, Davis destroyed all but one of his video works. The surviving video, "Video Puzzle," shows a foreshortened view of a model on the floor of a gallery spelling out a statement by Clement Greenberg at predetermined intervals.
Davis made several large-scale site-specific works using the stripe motif in public places. The first of these was created in the Bal Harbour, Florida, Neiman Marcus department store in 1970. Later works included Franklin's Footpath, executed in the road leading to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1972, and Niagara (1979) at ArtPark in Lewistown, NY, promoted at the time as the largest painting in the world. Interior large-scale works were created twice at the Corcoran Gallery, with Magic Circle (1975) and Ferris Wheel (1982), both executed in the museum's rotunda. Black Yo-Yo was created for the Cranbrook Academy in 1980, and Sun Sonata (1983), an illuminated wall of colored liquid-filled tubes, was created as an architectural feature of the Muscarelle Museum of Art in Williamsburg, Virginia. Plans for an unexecuted work called "Grass Painting," for a site near the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., were exhibited in the 1974 "Art Now" festival.
In the late 1970s and 1980s Davis consistently exhibited his work in several solo gallery shows a year, and also had numerous solo exhibitions in major museums. A major exhibition, Recent Paintings, was organized by the Walker Art Center in 1978, and traveled to the Corcoran Gallery of Art in 1979. A drawing retrospective was held at the Brooklyn Museum of art in 1983, and the same year the Washington Project for the Arts organized an exhibition entitled Child and Man: A Collaboration, featuring drawings Davis made in response to childrens' drawings. Davis died suddenly in April 1985 at the age of 65, and a major retrospective of his work was held at the Smithsonian National Museum of American Art in 1987.
Also found in the Archives of American Art is an oral history interview with Gene Davis conducted by Estill Curtis Pennington on April 23, 1981. A transcript is available on the Archives of American Art website.
Donated 1981 by Gene Davis and 1986 by his wife, Florence. Additional material donated 1991 and 1993 from Smithsonian American Art Museum via a bequest to them from the Gene and Florence Davis estate. Much of the 1993 addition was assembled by art historian Percy North at the request of Florence Davis. An additional folder of photographs of Davis taken in 1969 but printed in 2000 was later added to the collection.
Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C. Research Center. Use of archival audiovisual recordings with no duplicate access copy requires advance notice. Contact Reference Services for more information.
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This finding aid was digitized with funds generously provided by the Smithsonian Institution Women's Committee.
The Venezuela Project (1974-1982) was one of three big projects that Dr. Eisenberg directed during his time at the National Zoological Park. The papers documenting
this project include grant information and progress reports, correspondence between Sr. Tomas Blohm (research took place on his ranch), information on personnel who participated
in the project, financial records connected to the project, background information and publicity, and other correspondence. Included are photographs and newspaper clippings.
The Ceylon Project included research on elephants (1967-1976) and primates (1968-1982). Papers connected to this project include a research agreement with the Ceylonese
government, grant information and progress reports, financial records, correspondence with Dittus Wolfgang, George McKay, and other researchers in Ceylon, and information
on elephant immobilization techniques learned from the Ringling Brothers' elephant handlers. Angela Daugharty writes an interesting letter connected to the elephant project.
Suzanne Ripley, co-investigator, was an integral part of the research done in Ceylon, but none of her correspondence is found here. Oddly enough the correspondence between
Eisenberg and Ripley is found in box 16. Papers document research on pregnant elephants and dugongs. Correspondence from contacts within the Ceylonese infrastructure is included.
The Panama project was the third large, long-term project that Dr. Eisenberg was involved in. In Panama research centered on sloths, howler monkeys, iguanas, anteaters,
and various plant studies done in conjunction with the two-toed sloths. All of these are represented to some degree in the Panama files. Grant and financial records, logistics
paperwork, progress reports, and several manuscripts are also included. Correspondence is mainly from Dr. Montgomery, who led the research effort in Panama.
Dr. Eisenberg, in his capacity as head of the research office at the National Zoological Park, received information from many sources on many subjects. The bulk of this
paperwork can be found in his subject files. Information in these files comes from research projects as well as events within the Zoological Park. Subjects touched upon include
a memorandum listing possible projects for the 1976 Bicentennial at the National Zoological Park, a memorandum on carcasses, correspondence on the Deer Project, various research
reports, and reports on the Sleep Project. Information from the Smithsonian Foreign Currency Program is also included.
Like the subject files, the general correspondence files cover a broad spectrum of people and activities, and document Eisenberg's career within and outside the Smithsonian.
Correspondence comes from educators, graduate students, Smithsonian staff, research scientists, members of professional societies, and curators. Many of these contacts are
personal and some are international; they include discussion of possible drugs to immobilize wolves, letters from people inquiring about the white tigers, letters on speaking
engagements, references provided by Eisenberg, and even a Christmas card. Some correspondents also sent reports dealing with research in the zoological field.
Eisenberg was a member of many scientific societies and published in many scientific journals. He was often invited to attend conferences and to review articles by other
scientists in his field; this component of his professional life is documented in this collection. Papers include book reviews by Eisenberg, letters from Elsevier Scientific
Publishing Company, correspondence between Eisenberg and various publishers, reports on various topics, newsletters from the Animal Behavior Society, correspondence on conferences
(mostly Animal Behavior Society), information on International Ethological Conferences, research proposals, Carnivore roundtables, symposiums sponsored by the Smithsonian
Institution, and correspondence from academic institutions.
Other miscellaneous files document his work in education, at the National Zoological Park as an administrator and as a researcher, and in various professional organizations.
In one case papers document his relationship with a fellow employee. Files include a research proposal for the elephant physiology project, correspondence between Eisenberg
and various coworkers (especially Suzanne Ripley), manuscripts, and memoranda on zoo projects. Also included are guidebooks, brochures, and maps of zoos in the United States
and abroad. Site plans, progress reports, and assorted financial records (including receipts from Ceylon), round out this component of the Eisenberg collection.
John Eisenberg was born June 20, 1935 in Everett, Washington. He received a B.S. at Washington State University in 1957 and an M.A. from the University of California,
Berkeley, in 1959. He received a Ph.D. in zoology from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1962 and went to the University of British Columbia, where he stayed from
1962 to 1964 as an assistant professor of zoology. In 1964 he accepted a post at the University of Maryland, College Park, as assistant professor of zoology and in 1965 was
made research associate professor of zoology. In 1972 he became a research professor at the University of Maryland. In 1973 he was made an associate of the Department of Mental
Hygiene at Johns Hopkins University, and he held this title until 1978.
In 1964 the National Zoological Park (NZP) organized a division to do research. On September 1, 1965 Eisenberg was appointed to the post of resident scientist in the Division
of Research at the National Zoological Park. He worked with Edwin Gould of John's Hopkins University on an ecological and behavioral study of the tenrecoid insectivores of
Madagascar from January 1966 to April 1966. In January 1967 he left for Ceylon to initiate an elephant research project. At the end of January he returned to Madagascar to
continue his studies of the tenrecoid. In April he returned to Washington, D.C., then flew back to Ceylon in May for field inspections of the elephant project.
He started a year-long residency in Ceylon June 10, 1968, and during October did another field inspection as well as teaching a course to Ceylonese personnel on immobilizing
wild elephants. In January he met with Dr. Paul Leyhausen of the Max Planck Institute. By 1970 the fieldwork on the Ceylon Elephant Project was complete. In 1971 the research
division, under his direction, started the captive breeding of papcaranas and a research project on sloths in Panama. In March he was the acting director for the Zoological
Program; he went back to being resident scientist in 1972 because the Zoological Program was dissolved.
The study on the sloth continued in Panama during 1972. He became president of the Animal Behavior Society in 1973, and the scientist in charge of the office of Scientific
Research at the National Zoological Park. The sloth study continued in Panama, led by Dr. G. C. Montgomery. During 1974 progress was made on 24 research projects that included:
the sloth study, a study of the behavior scoring of female mammals in heat, and reproduction in caviomorph rodents. He was also involved with the Thirteenth International
Congress of Ethology that took place in Washington, D.C.
In January 1975 he left for Venezuela to do herpetological and mammalian studies, and research in Venezuela continued until June. The Venezuelan field projects at Guatopo
National Park and the ranch of Sr. Tomas Blohm started in earnest in 1976. During 1977 the Venezuelan projects continued, and a new project on the vocal communication in cogeneric
wrens started in Panama. These projects continued through 1978, and a new project studying the toque monkey in Ceylon started as well. In 1979 Dr. Eisenberg was made the assistant
director for animal programs at the National Zoological Park. He became responsible for all animal and educational programs run by the National Zoological Park. Vertebrate
Ecology in the Northern Neotropics, which he edited, was published in 1980 by the Smithsonian Press.
In 1981 he did a field study of the Cuban solendon in Cuba and visited various national parks in India. In April he spent three weeks in China discussing the possibility
of setting a series of research projects based in a national park. In September his monograph, The Mammalian Radiations, was published. He also received the prestigious
C. Hart Merriam award from the American Society of Mammalogists in 1981. He continued in the post of assistant director of animal and education programs until August 21, 1982,
when he resigned to become Ordway professor of ecosystem conservation at the University of Florida in Gainesville.