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"I Celebrate Black History Every Day": Bing Davis Builds A Legacy

By Tino BovenziDayton PUBLISHED 9:15 AM ET Feb. 08, 2021

DAYTON, Ohio — At 83 years young, artist Willis “Bing” Davis still makes art every day. “I’ve been doing it all my life,” Davis said. “I can’t remember a time when I didn’t make art.”

What You Need To Know

  • Willis “Bing” Davis has been making and teaching art in Dayton all his life

  • He is a champion of Dayton Public Schools, who continues to give back to students at 83 years old

  • Davis is a well-respected and highly-decorated artist, and his works have been featured around the globe

  • Davis still makes new art today with a new works planned to feature in a gallery in Dayton mid-February

Davis is a Dayton legend, someone that many artists, young and old, look up to.

He is a champion of Dayton Public Schools, where he was a successful athlete in his high school years.

“I grew up in a family in East Dayton, who was quite impoverished; my mother raised all six of us by ourselves. We were often times on welfare, but all the while, she would tell us we could still be who we wanted to be if we work at it.”

Work at it he did. While many expected him to follow a path in athletics, Davis knew in his heart pursuing a career in art was the correct choice.

“I wanted to be a teacher like the many good teachers that I had,” Davis said. “So, I was fortunate to be able to follow something that I enjoyed so much. And also fortunate that those same individuals in my hometown of Dayton, Ohio that supported my athletic career also supported my interests in the arts.”

Davis began teaching in the 60s, and he has been an advocate for many projects during his life. One thing he’s particularly passionate about is advocating against racism.

“We cannot go back,” Davis said. “The way things are happening now, in the community, in the neighborhoods — the violence that’s there, the people who’ve died that we’ve seen on the radio and TV — we cannot go back. So we’re going to have to deal with it this time.”

Davis is working on new pieces dedicated to victims of police brutality, and soon, these pieces and others will be on display at the Ebonia Gallery near downtown Dayton in an exhibit called Black Life as Subject Matter 2.

“We’re gonna use these pieces of art to look at how we can better heal this nation,” he said. “Music is gonna play a role. Drama is gonna play a role. The visual and decorative arts are gonna play a role.”

Davis hopes that his art continues to teach people valuable life lessons through shared experience.

“Using the art through in terms of rituals and ceremonies and rites of passage, that people celebrate birth, puberty, marriage, death, after death and that the art was a primary form,” Davis said. “So, I said, I could use art to not only develop artists, but to develop people. Because art was a way of looking at similarities and differences in cultures of people.”

He said he is honored to be featured as part of our series of profiles for Black History Month, but wants people to know Black History shouldn’t be confined to just one month of the year.

“I feel great about Black History Month," Davis said. “As a matter, of fact I feel so great about it, I celebrate it every month. I celebrate Black history every day.”

As he looks at his legacy in the Dayton area and globally as an artist, he wants people to know that he lived, he saw, and he expressed.

“For me, being involved in the arts has been one of the most satisfying things aspects of being alive,” Davis said. “I cannot imagine not feeling. I cannot imagine not wanting to express what I see and how I feel about it. It’s been a joy, it’s been a joy. Hopefully people look at my work and they see the joy and excitement of just being alive.”

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