BROWSE BY:     Title Number Subject Creator Digital Content

Interview with Harry L. Davis, February 22, 2008 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

pdf icon Get PDF Version
Interview with Harry L. Davis, February 22, 2008
February 22, 2008
Interview with nationally-known artist Harry L. Davis, who recounts his years growing up in Wilmington, his time in the U.S. military, and the growth of his artistic career.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Davis, Harry L. Interviewer:  Hayes, Sherman Date of Interview:  2/22/2008 Series:  Arts Length  150 minutes

Hayes: Greetings. I'm here interviewing today. My name is Sherman Hayes, university librarian at UNCW's Randall Library. And we're interviewing Harry Davis. Did I get that right, Harry?

Davis: That's correct.

Hayes: And your full name was?

Davis: Harry Lee Davis.

Hayes: Harry Lee Davis. And Harry is a well known and successful artist from the Wilmington area. And also has his papers for his art career at Randall Library, I guess that's a disclaimer. And my staff always insists, which I forget to do, to say that it is Friday, February 22, 2008. So I think I've met all the obligations, Harry, so we can get started. We're talking to you today about an art career that's spanned several decades. But before we jump into that, you must have started somewhere. Could you go back a ways and tell us a little bit about your early life and where you grew up and so forth?

Davis: Well, I was born in Wilmington, North Carolina, even though now I reside in Belleville, North Carolina. And I grew up in a single parent home, I was raised by my mother. My mother and my father divorced when I was about six-- well, they didn't divorce, they separated when I was about six years old. So myself, my brother and my sister were raised by my mother. Although my father was always in the picture, we always knew where he was. You know, he would always come by and check on us. But basically my mother raised us.

Hayes: And what's your mom's name?

Davis: My mother's name was Anna Ray Simpson Davis.

Hayes: Oh great. Then you're an old Wilmington family in the sense of were your roots here in Wilmington, the whole family?

Davis: Well, my roots are. My mother originally came from Rocky Point, North Carolina, Pender County. And I think my father's people originally came from South Carolina.

Hayes: And school here?

Davis: I went to Gregory Elementary School, which was an all black elementary school. And from there, I left elementary school, I went on to junior high school, Williston Junior High.

Hayes: And is there still a Williston?

Davis: Still a Wilson, yeah. I think it's called Williston School of Science.

Hayes: Okay, okay, good. Yeah, all right.

Davis: Yeah. But back when I was attending, it was Williston Junior High and Williston Senior High. And I graduated in 1967.

Hayes: Was that still a segregated school at that time?

Davis: It was still a segregated school. As a matter of fact, the class that followed my class was the last segregated class. I think Williston integrated in '68.

Hayes: And it was a great school, right? I mean we have a program with alums, and I think if you haven't been there, or somebody recent like me comes in, doesn't realize it was a great school, wasn't it?

Davis: It was a great school. Williston has a long and really famous history. A lot of famous graduates. Meadowlark Lemon, Ophelia Gibson, a few other sports figures. A lot of Williston grads went on to become famous engineers, doctors, reverends. So it has a long and __________________ history.

Hayes: Had you started art even at that that level, or were there any offerings of any kind?

Davis: No. As a matter of fact, if you'd asked me, when I was in middle school, if you'd have asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would never have said professional artist. Never even--

Hayes: What would you have said?

Davis: I would have said something like the usual. You know, a police officer or a fireman, or maybe doctor.

Hayes: Were you in sports at that time too?

Davis: I played sports, yeah. I never played for Williston, but I played local organized sports. I played a lot of basketball, baseball.

Hayes: Good, because the people don't know you at the time, were you what, six-two, six-three, through high school?

Davis: Yeah.

Hayes: Yeah, I mean, that's big.

Davis: I was six feet by the time I was about 14 or 15. So I was always tall. But getting back to your question. I never really had any interest in art. As a matter of fact, I hated art classes. I took art in high school.

Hayes: You had take them?

Davis: Yeah, it was required. I never liked it, never liked it.

Hayes: (laughs)

Davis: I can't remember what kind of grades I made, but I know I never great grades in my art classes. I guess it was just too structured for me. And I never liked doing the things that the art teachers wanted me to do. But I always loved drawing. I started drawing when I was like, when I was about four or five years old.

Hayes: So you have that memory of always drawing, then?

Davis: Oh yes.

Hayes: And what would you draw? Everything and anything?

Davis: Well, when I was four or five years old, I drew typical four or five year old kind of sketches. You know, the little stick hands and stick fingers. And I remember drawing-- I used to draw-- any time I had a pencil or pen in my hand, I would draw anything. I'd draw on the floor, inside of book covers, sheets of paper. And as the years went by, as I got older, I found out I really had a talent for it. I could draw pretty much anything that I saw.

Hayes: Wow.

Davis: Yeah, I was really good. As a matter of fact, I remember when I must have been about 12, 13 years old and I drew a sketch from the back of a comic book. It was one of those little, it's not a contest, but it was one of those things that you'd see on the back of comic books where you draw the face and you send it in to some kind of an art school.

Hayes: Right, right, right.

Davis: Yeah. And I did that. It was on the back of a comic book. I sent it in. And I remember a representative from the school actually came to our house. This is when we were living in the projects.

Hayes: Wow.

Davis: And talked with my mother and told her that, yeah, told her, "You know, your son has a lot of talent, and here's what we can do." And the school offered these classes, I think they were correspondence courses. And my mom couldn't afford it. So, you know, it never went anywhere.

Hayes: So you used the term "projects." I don't know, not everybody would know what that means. What was a project?

Davis: Oh I just assumed anybody would know what a project was. Public housing.

Hayes: Public housing.

Davis: Public housing, yeah.

Hayes: That was mainly African Americans.

Davis: Right, yeah, yeah.

Hayes: And that's where you grew up.

Davis: That's where I grew up, yeah. The Hillcrest Projects, Wilmington, North Carolina.

Hayes: I don't know where that's at.

Davis: You probably wouldn't. But anybody over the age of 35 who--

Hayes: Who lived here.

Davis: --who lived here in Wilmington would know Hillcrest Projects. Right now, Hillcrest is probably one of two projects that are left from a total of probably about five or six projects. You know, most of the others have been torn down.

Hayes: Torn down, or upgraded.

Davis: Or upgraded in some way. But Hillcrest is pretty much--

Hayes: Was that tough times? Or I mean to you did it seem tough times?

Davis: It wasn't tough times. Not to me. I mean, it probably was tough for my mother. But I mean, when you're that age, when you're a kid, everybody around-- everybody I knew grew up under the same circumstances that I grew up under. And we were all poor, but you know, if everybody else is poor, then you really don't realize it. You only realize it when you get around rich people. As a matter of fact, I tell people all the time, those of years growing up in Hillcrest were the best years of my life. I mean, I had friends from the first day I moved into the projects. The same friends that I have today, we grew up together.

Hayes: Are you kidding? You're still in touch?

Davis: Same guys that I hung out with when I was six and seven years old, we're still friends today.

Hayes: That's great.

Davis: Yeah. We had--

Hayes: And not many people have that, when you think about it.

Davis: I don't think so.

Hayes: I mean, I'm not saying that that's the way to do it, but I'm just saying, I can't say that.

Davis: Yeah, most people can't. Most people can't. We still in touch, and yeah.

Hayes: So after high school, what was next?

Davis: Well, after high school, I pretty much had no idea what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I had a brother in college.

Hayes: What was his name?

Davis: Charles Davis. As a matter of fact, it's Reverend Charles Davis now.

Hayes: Ooh.

Davis: Yeah, my brother's a minister. And he was in college. And that was pretty tough. I mean, you know, a single parent, brother in college. And I just pretty much assumed there was no way I could go to college too. I just didn't think the money was there.

Hayes: What school did he go to?

Davis: He went to A&T University of Greensboro.

Hayes: Greensboro, okay. Yeah.

Davis: He didn't graduate. I mean it actually took my brother about 25 years to graduate from college. He went two years.

Hayes: He was on the long-term plan.

Davis: He was on the long-term plan. He went two years, dropped out, and went in the Coast Guard. Got married, raised a family, and years later went back to college at UNCW, University of North Carolina in Wilmington.

Hayes: He did? Oh, that's great.

Davis: Graduated with a degree in business administration. And then he went back and continued on and got a degree in theology.

Hayes: Yeah? And where from? Where did he end up taking his theology degree then? When particular school did he go to?

Davis: UNCW.

Hayes: Not for the theology?

Davis: No. Okay.

Hayes: I mean, that's usually, I'm saying that's a like minister school.

Davis: Yeah, yeah. Okay, all right. I knew you were all about that.

Hayes: Well, I don't know.

Davis: Well he _____________________ a degree in theology. Maybe it wasn't at UNCW.

Hayes: Well, he could have done religion at UNCW.

Davis: I think that's what it was. Absolutely right. Philosophy and religion.

Hayes: Yeah. And then you usually then have to go to--

Davis: And then he went to a seminary.

Hayes: Seminary, that's the right term.

Davis: Baptist seminary.

Hayes: Yeah, I didn't know we had a seminary. Some people would like to.

Davis: Yeah.

Hayes: Well, that is a great story.

Davis: Yeah, I'm really proud. I'm really proud of him.

Hayes: Now does he still live here or--

Davis: Still lives in Wilmington.

Hayes: Excellent. And he's a minister?

Davis: He's the pastor of Mt. Zion AME Church.

Hayes: Fantastic.

Davis: In Wilmington, North Carolina.

Hayes: So you're drifting, and like anybody coming out of high school saying-- and what year would have that been, about?

Davis: I graduated in 1967.

Hayes: '67. Well, that's interesting.

Davis: Oh it was very ____________________

Hayes: Because I'm '66. I'm just saying that the times were-- Vietnam was raging.

Davis: Vietnam War was going hot and strong.

Hayes: Did you figure you'd get drafted?

Davis: I knew I was going to get drafted.

Hayes: (laughs)

Davis: No doubt in my mind.

Hayes: (laughs)

Davis: Because just about every guy I knew who was older than me had already been drafted, or at least gotten the draft notices. A lot of them didn't end up going in the military for different reasons.

Hayes: Right, right, right.

Davis: But they got their draft notices.

Hayes: But also, the South was patriotic. I mean, it was ready to go. I mean, people really did sign up at a higher level than many parts of the country. So I'm saying it wasn't that they were necessarily forced to go in. Didn't you have a sense that the South, around here anyway, I know it has had a long history of supporting the military.

Davis: Supporting military engagements? You got it. You are right about it. You are absolutely right about that.

Hayes: I mean white and black.

Davis: White and black. White and black. As a matter of fact, I wouldn't hesitate to say that probably the majority of your volunteers and draftees at that time probably came from the southern states, white and black, yeah. So anyway, I knew my draft notice was coming up. And after high school, I got a small job at McCorley's [ph?] Department Store, where I worked as a stock boy, waiting on my draft notice to come. And I probably shouldn't tell this part.

Hayes: Well, it's up to you. (laughs) Careful.

Davis: All right. I'll tell it anyway.

Hayes: (laughs) You're telling the world.

Davis: This is history, this is history. Before I went into the military, or before I got my draft notice, I got into a little trouble, all right? A little legal trouble. And it's one of those cases, and I know people say this always happens. But this was actually one of those cases of being with the wrong person at the wrong time got me in trouble, all right? So I ended up with a police record. And since I knew my draft notice was coming up, I decided I would volunteer. And I volunteered for the Marine Corps. I went to see a Marine Corps recruiter. And of course, they accepted me on the spot. And within a few days, I was on my way to Raleigh, North Carolina to be inducted into the Marine Corps. And I was actually in the swearing in room with about 40 other young men, waiting to be sworn into the Marine Corps, when a Marine Corps corporal came into the room and asked if there was a Harry L. Davis in the room. And of course, I put my hand up very slowly. And the corporal said, "They want you back at the recruitment station." So I said, "Why?" He said, "I don't know." So anyway, I followed this corporal down the street to the Marine Corps recruiting station. And there was this Marine Corps gunnery sergeant in there. And he was a typical hard core Marine Corps gunnery sergeant, crew cut, big freckled red hands, red face. And this guy was mad. But he wasn't mad at me, he was mad at the recruiter in Wilmington, who had recruited me. And he asked me, "Why didn't you tell him you had a police record?" I said, "I did. I told him that." And he said, "Well we didn't know that. And I'm going to have a word with that recruiter in Wilmington. But right now, we can't take you. We've got to get this straightened out before we can take you." And the last thing he said before walking out the door, he said, "Now when you get this taken care of, Mr. Davis, come back and see us." I said, "You won't see me again." I said, "You blew it." And so I left, got on the bus. They put me on a bus, sent me back to Wilmington. And I went back to work at McCorley's [ph?]. And now I didn't know if I would be drafted or not. But what happened was, I got my draft notice. I got my draft notice. And the day I got my draft notice, I decided, rather than go into the Army as a draftee, I wanted to go in as a volunteer. Because I'd been told that volunteers got a few more breaks than draftees, all right? So the same day I got my draft notice, I went down to see the Army recruiter and volunteer. Didn't tell him I got a draft notice. Of course, he was happy to see me. He signed me up. A week later, I was back on a bus on my way to Raleigh, an Army recruit.

Hayes: But nothing happened then?

Davis: Nothing happened. But let me say this. I told the Army recruiter the same thing I told the Marine Corps recruiter. I said, "Look, I have a police record." And I explained to him what happened. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong person. The Army recruiter said, "Don't worry about it. We'll take care of it." And he said, "By the time you get sworn in, you won't have a police record." And that's what happened.

Hayes: You're kidding?

Davis: I'm not kidding.

Hayes: You no longer have a police record?

Davis: I no longer have one, don't have a police record. And in a minute, I'll tell you why I know that. Let me finish the story.

Hayes: Finish the story.

Davis: Okay, I'll finish the story. So anyway, a week later, I was on my way back to Raleigh to be sworn in as an Army recruit. And again, I took all the tests, a battery of tests. And something interesting happened to me. There must have been about, I think between 2 and 300 other recruits. And not all from the Army.

Hayes: Yeah, right.

Davis: 2 or 300 young men waiting to go into the Army, the Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, whatever. And we were all given the same battery of tests. And so we take one battery of tests, and they gave us a 30 minute break, and then we go in for another battery. And so somewhere along about the third test, an enlisted Army soldier comes into the room while we're sitting in the room after we finished the test. And he calls, he's got a folder in his hand. He opens the folder. He calls out a list of names. And he calls out about 20 names, and my name is one of those names on the list. So now I'm thinking--

Hayes: Oh, no.

Davis: Yeah. (laughs)

Hayes: This can't happen again.

Davis: I'm thinking, "Here we go again."

Hayes: Oh, no. (laughs)

Davis: This guys are going to put me on a bus and send me back to Wilmington again.

Hayes: How many times?

Davis: And so--

Hayes: But the point is, Harry, you really wanted to go into the service, right?

Davis: Excuse me?

Hayes: You really did want to go into the service.

Davis: I did. Because I had a little nickel and dime job.

Hayes: No, but I mean, you were not dodging, you wanted to go in the service.

Davis: I was not dodging, I really wanted to go in. I was 18 years old, I was invincible. I mean, everything on the news, they gave the body count. I knew that guys were dying in Vietnam, but I never felt I would be one of them. And for me, the whole thing was just a sense of adventure. I grew up in a small town, moved to North Carolina, there was nothing to do. I was bored, really. I was ready to go.

Hayes: And you were successful in high school. But your opportunities, I would guess in Wilmington were not going to be--

Davis: They were pretty limited.

Hayes: Pretty limited.

Davis: They were pretty limited, yeah.

Hayes: So who were the 20 people?

Davis: Okay, and this is where it gets really interesting. This soldier led us into another room. And once we were all seated, an officer comes in, and I think he was a major or a colonel, I can't remember. I almost feel he was a major. And he tells us that, well basically he said, "I know you young men are wondering why you're in here. Well, you're in here because you did exceptionally well on your last test, so we have some other tests for you." And so we were in this room for about 45 minutes. And we took about three different tests, psychological tests, aptitude tests, intelligence tests. And when we were done, they thanked us and we went out. And I had no idea what that was all about, all right? And so the next step of course, after we took the physical, everybody has a physical. The next step step is to be sworn in. Now, I'm standing in line, waiting to be sworn in again. And I'm waiting for somebody to come in the room and tell me that I can't go in the military. But that doesn't happen.

Hayes: Oh, good.

Davis: I raised my right hand, and all swear it, and we just, you know, "To the United States of America." And we all swear that we've never been a part of any organizations that can overthrow America, we have no police records, and we came to that part, we have no felonies, and no police records. And I swore that I had none. And I figured, "Okay, this is where I found out whether or not what the recruiter told me is true." So anyway, after that I was in the Army. And my next stop was Fort Bragg, North Carolina. And I found out later that that test that I took was a test for West Point. Yeah. I found out later on while I'm taking basic training that 20 men and myself, 19 other men and myself who were in that room, we were actually taking the test to find out if we were qualified to attend one of the military academies of the United States, West Point, Annapolis, or I think it was the Air Force Academy.

Hayes: Air Force Academy.

Davis: Yeah. And I was chosen to go to West Point, that's what that test was all about.

Hayes: You did go to West Point?

Davis: (laughs) What do you think?

Hayes: (laughs)

Davis: What do you think? Do you think I went?

Hayes: I don't know.

Davis: No, I did not go.

Hayes: You didn't go. Did they offer?

Davis: I was in-- basic training at that time was eight weeks, two months long. It was two months. I was in my fourth week of basic training, as a matter of fact, I was on the field taking P.T.

Hayes: P.T.?

Davis: Physical training.

Hayes: Okay, good.

Davis: And it must have been about eight o'clock in the morning, Fort Bragg. And I was on the P.T. field with about 250 other recruits. A Jeep comes flying up the field, and there's a sergeant driving the Jeep. He gets out of the Jeep, walks up to the podium where the drill sergeant's taking us through calisthenics. And we're all turning to see what's going on, he speaks to the senior drill sergeant, he opens a folder, and he whispers something in his ear. And the senior drill sergeant motions to the other drill sergeants to stop P.T. And he steps up to the mike and here we go again. "Is there a Harry L. Davis."

Hayes: [inaudible]

Davis: All the drill sergeants, trainees, everybody. "Harry L. Davis." And I didn't say anything, didn't move, because I knew they couldn't be talking about me. Then he says, "Private Davis, Harry L." Then I realized he's talking about me. Front and center. So I run up to the front of the company.

Hayes: Oh no.

Davis: And I'm scared, my knees, are weak, I'm scared. And of course, I'm thinking, "They found out I have a record." That's the only reason I'm telling this story--

Hayes: This is great.

Davis: It was crazy. Looking back, it's great. It wasn't so great. I was scared to death. I literally thought I was going to end up in the stockade. You know? That's what I thought was going to happen. And so the senior drill sergeant tells me, he says, "Davis, go with this man." And he was a black sergeant, E5. And I climbed in the Jeep with this sergeant and he takes off. And we're driving across base, Fort Bragg. And if you've ever been to Fort Bragg, one of the things you know about it, it's a huge military base. It's one of the largest in the world. I have no idea where we're going. But this guy is flying. He's taking corners on two wheels. And I'm sweating bullets, I mean, what's going on? And every now and then, out of the corner of my eye, I see this guy looking at me. And finally, I know he wants to know what's going on. And finally, he asked me. He says, "Man, what did you do?" And now I'm really scared. I said, "I didn't do anything. I don't know." He said, "You must have done something." And so we pull up.

Hayes: Because he doesn't know.

Davis: He doesn't know. Finally, we pull up in front of this huge white building that I later find out is the actual headquarters of the Army training center at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Hayes: Yeah.

Davis: General Tolsen [ph?], I can't remember his first name, but I remember his last name. General Tolsen is the commanding general of the Army training center at Fort Bragg. That's the man that I'm supposed to see. So this sergeant leads me into this building. And I'm looking around, I'm taking everything in. We walked into the lobby. And all I see are all these people behind typewriters and desks. There's a lot of typing going on. That's the sound I remember. When I walked into the door, everybody stops. And now I'm petrified. Petrified.

Hayes: Oh, my goodness.

Davis: Now I'm thinking this is not about the stockade, this is about a firing squad, all right. And so he leads me to this door. And he says, "Private Davis, here's what you do. You knock on the door, wait for the general to tell you to come inside. But I know the routine because I've already been through it." And so I knock on the door, and this voice says, "Come in." So I step into this room. And it's a huge office. And at the far side of the room, is an officer. And I can't see his face because he's looking down at some papers on his desk. But I step into the room, close the door behind me, and I take three steps and I stop six feet from his desk, just as I was trained to do. And I snapped to attention, full salute, I stood up to attention. And I'm standing there and he never looks up. And I'm waiting on him. And I see he's a man about in his 40s, and he's short and compact, got white hair, a crew cut, and he looks very stern and authoritative. All right? And he's got three stars on his collar, all right? And he's reading these papers. And he never looks up, and I'm just standing there. And it seemed like I'm standing there for like an hour. And he never looks up. And while he's looking at the papers, I'm slowly looking around the room. And I look around, it's a huge office, huge desk. There's window behind the desk. And outside the window, I can see people coming and going, they're carrying briefcases. And all the walls are all these plaques and pictures. And I see a picture on the wall of him shaking John F. Kennedy's hand.

Hayes: Oh, my goodness.

Davis: I see a picture of General Westmorland. So I know this man is high up the military hierarchy, right? So I stand there, and finally, he clears his voice and looks up at me. And he puts the papers down, and he says, "Stand at ease, soldier." So I stand at ease, parade rest. He says, "Well solder, it seems Uncle Sam wants to see you at West Point."

Hayes: And I don't know what to say. I mean, I've got all these different thoughts going through my head, all these different emotions. And I'm just standing there, and he's looking at me. He says, "Well, what do you think?" And I didn't know what to say. Because this is not what I was expecting. I thought I was in trouble. And he's just sitting there. And I guess he thinks, "Well, maybe this guy doesn't know what West Point is." You know, he says, "You have heard of West Point, right?" And I knew where West Point was, I saw the movie The Long Green Line and everything, so I knew what West Point was. And I said, "Yes sir." He said, "Well, do you want to go or not? I don't have all day son, you're going to answer." And I said, "No sir." And he just looks at me. He just stares at me for about five or six seconds. And he says, "Okay, you're dismissed." And I salute, I snap to attention, I salute do an about face, walk out the door, pulled it behind me. And _____________, before I [inaudible]. And everybody's staring at me. So I walked to the sergeant, he's sitting there in the lobby in a chair. He gets up and I follow him back out the door, we climb in the Jeep and we came back to my company in the company area and finished my basic training. And on the drive, I'm not saying anything, and he's not saying anything. But I see him looking at me. And finally, I can tell he just can't hold it in anymore. He said, "So come on and tell me. What did they want you for?" I said, "They want to send me to West Point." And silence, he doesn't say anything. He drives about another block. I just hear him say, "Damn." And so we go back, and I finished basic training.

Hayes: And do you look back on that wondering? I mean, you make choices.

Davis: They didn't give up. They wanted to send me to OCS school, Officers Candidate School, NCO school. I turned them all down. Yeah, I regretted it. Years later, I regretted it. It hit me-- oh, I should tell you this. I have to say this before I finish this story. My drill sergeant was a black drill sergeant, Sergeant Simon, _________________________ my yearbook and everything, _______________________ his picture. This guy joined the Army when he was 15 years old. And I know, because he told us all this story. He loved the Army. If you cut him, he'd bleed green blood. He joined the Army when he was 15 years old, got an uncle to sign for him. He loved the Army. And this is what he told me later on, because he wanted to know why they wanted me. And I told him they wanted me to go to West Point. And he called me in this room, he had a little small room, just a cot and a footlocker in it. And I told him what happened. And that's when he told me he joined the Army when he was 15, got his uncle to sign for him. And he said "Davis, when I joined the Army, I never saw a black officer. I knew we had them, but I never saw one. And you turned it down." And he said, "Get out of my room."

Hayes: Oh golly.

Davis: Yeah.

Hayes: You were symbolic to him, a way to get ___________

Davis: Absolutely, yeah.

Hayes: At the same time, you are 18 years old.

Davis: I was 18. Look, I wanted to go through the Army, I wanted to go through my training with the same guys I came in with.

Hayes: Yeah, well, I think that's common.

(phone rings)

Hayes: Oh phone, I'll shut that off. I wanted to go through with the same guys I came in with. And deep down inside, I had this feeling that I was really no better than them, and I didn't want to be put in a position where I would be over these guys. That's just the way I felt.

Hayes: It's a normal thing.

Davis: Yeah. I just wanted to be a regular solder, you know? But of course, years later, I realized what I passed up on. I mean, I don't regret it now. But it wasn't until _____________ it hit me what I turned down.

Hayes: Well, it was a compliment that they were interested.

Davis: It was. It was, it was.

Hayes: So for those who just see the words, don't realize that you're in a wheelchair. Did that happen in the Army?

Davis: That happened in the Army, yes. Do you want the story?

Hayes: You bet. Well, I mean, it's up to you.

Davis: Yeah.

Hayes: I mean, I don't know whether it affects you as an artist, but it obviously set you on an artistic path.

Davis: You're absolutely right.

Hayes: So it's an important part of your life.

Davis: Absolutely. I would have never become an artist if I had not been injured in the military. And what happened was, once I finished basic training, I got my orders. I got my orders letting me know exactly what my job in the military would be, as it's called in the military, M.O.S., right? Which is Military Occupational Status. Well, Uncle Sam decided to turn me into a policeman, a military policeman.

Hayes: Huh.

Davis: Yeah.

Hayes: It's interesting, earlier, you said "I might be a policeman."

Davis: Like I said, right? Like I said, the story is more interesting since I hid the fact that I had a police record when I came in, Uncle Sam decided to turn me into a military policeman. And the funny thing about it is, the Army is very good at deciding what you will be good at in the military. They're good at that.

Hayes: Really?

Davis: Oh yes, very good. Very good at it. The tests that they give you when you go in, they use them to determine what your aptitude is, what you're good at. And they decided I'd make a good policeman. And they were right. I was a very good M.P., I loved it. I knew what I wanted to do when I came out of the military.

Hayes: Did you have to do more training at that point?

Davis: More training, yeah.

Hayes: Because you didn't start out as a --

Davis: Yes.

Hayes: What was that? Another six months?

Davis: Okay. Once you finish basic training, which is eight weeks, you get your orders, you know, your M.O.S., the military occupational status. And that's another eight weeks. So I went to M.P. school at Fort Gordon, Georgia, all right? It was eight weeks long. That's where I learned how to be a military policeman. And there it was pretty much the same kind of school that a civilian policeman would go through except it's grounded in military principles.

Hayes: Right, right.

Davis: And so I learned how to be a policeman there. When I graduated from M.P. school, I went to jump school. Because when I went into the military, like I said, I was gung ho, I went in for the adventure.

Hayes: Jump school.

Davis: Jump school. I wanted to be a paratrooper.

Hayes: Oh, a paratrooper, okay.

Davis: Or as we are known, fools who jump out of perfectly good planes.

Hayes: (laughs) And they would want M.P.s to be paratroopers?

Davis: No, no. Being a paratrooper is strictly voluntary.

Hayes: Okay.

Davis: All right? That's strictly voluntary. That's something you have to ask for.

Hayes: Okay.

Davis: And that's what I asked for. I want to be a paratrooper. And I met some paratroopers years ago, before I went in the military. And I just thought they were so cool. And then once, I remember when I was about 16. I was driving through Fayetteville, and I saw these guys on the streets of Fayetteville, and I asked a friend of mine, "Who are those guys?" I thought they were Marines, you know, I didn't know. He said, "Oh, they're paratroopers."

Hayes: Yeah, well that's a big unit there in--

Davis: 82nd Airborne Division.

Hayes: Yeah, that's in that area.

Davis: That's right. So anyway, I ended up going to jump school in Fort Benning, Georgia for another four weeks, which was really, really very interesting.

Hayes: And you liked it?

Davis: I loved it.

Hayes: You really liked it.

Davis: A lot of guys, the military's not for everybody. And you find that out probably the first day that you go in--

Hayes: (laughs) First day.

Davis: First day. You know--

Hayes: It's a little late, though.

Davis: But I really loved it. I was just like everybody else, I griped. I griped about it, you know. But I really loved it. And I loved jump school. It was really tough, but that's what I loved about it.

Hayes: Had you been in a plane before that or not?

Davis: I had never been in a plane. And here they were, asking me to jump out of one. I had never been in a plane. And so--

Hayes: Now were you big, for a paratrooper too? Or not? Were there lots of them your size? I mean, because I thought maybe you'd be smaller.

Davis: Yeah, yeah. That's what you would think. But there were a lot of guys my height.

Hayes: So it didn't matter. There were no restrictions.

Davis: It didn't matter. It didn't matter. Those parachutes can drop a tank. They can handle a big guy. They can handle a big guy. And the interesting thing, other interesting thing about jump school is the fact that I thought there would only be Army guys there. But actually, all four branches of the military send their people there to be trained as paratroopers. So we had Marines, we had Navy SEALs, and we had guys from the Air Force. And becoming a paratrooper is something that I'm really proud of, because I found out that even though a lot of guys went through, very few of them actually made it through training. Now, from what I understand, the training's a little easier now. But back then, it was very, very difficult training. And so I was really proud to-- I was proud ________________.

Hayes: If you would have been an active paratrooper, were they used in Vietnam, in the ____________? I mean, in other words, that's almost a World War II kind of specialty. I just didn't know if you anticipated where paratroopers ended up after that.

Davis: Well, let me say this. Let me say this. The paratrooper units were created during World War II. Actually, the Germans and the Russians were the first people to use paratroopers.

Hayes: Right, right, right.

Davis: Paratroopers were created basically to be used as a means of striking the enemy from behind the lines. That was their job.

Hayes: That's right, that's a good point.

Davis: Paratroopers would be flown in, dropped behind enemy lines, and cause disruption among the enemy. But there are certain types of terrain where paratroopers are not just not what you want to do, and Vietnam is one of those places. It's a jungle terrain.

Hayes: That's right.

Davis: Yeah. So paratroopers were used on a very, very limited basis in Vietnam.

Hayes: But they still had them.

Davis: They still had them.

Hayes: Because they didn't know what the next war was going to be, right?

Davis: That's right, and they still had one. As a matter of fact, the motto of the 82nd Airborne Division when I was there, the motto was "anywhere in the world in 48 hours." I mean, we could be ready. We could be ready within less than 48 hours, to be dropped anywhere in the world.

Hayes: So now you're a paratrooper.

Davis: So now I'm a paratrooper.

Hayes: Are you going up in rank at this point?

Davis: Yeah. I moved up from a buck private to a private first class. Private first class. The rank didn't come fast. Rank was pretty slow. But I've got to say, jump school was four weeks long. But I've got to tell you about that first jump. Because like I said, I'd never been on a plane before. And the day, the last week of jump school was called jump week. That's when you actually began to train, really train hard, for jumping out of a plane, where it gets really specific, okay? You're instructed on how to exit the plane and everything that you're going to need to know to come out of the plane. So finally, the day arrives when we're going to make our first jump. They truck us in to the airfield, and they park the trucks right there on the tarmac. And you can, from the back of the truck, you can see the planes. The planes are in ready position, their motors are running, they're warming up. And the planes that we jumped from on that first jump were C-119s.

Hayes: C-119.

Davis: C-119s, yeah.

Hayes: Is that propeller?

Davis: Propeller.

Hayes: Propeller.

Davis: These were World War II vintage planes. World War II, all right? They were called "flying boxcars." And they were called that because of the way they were made. The fuselage or the cargo part actually looked like a boxcar with wings on it, that's what it looked like. And these planes were old. I mean, they were backfiring all the time. And so they marched us all, they broke us down into 20 man units, 10 men per stick. Now a stick is the number of men who actually exit each side of the plane.

Hayes: Oh yeah, two sides, okay.

Davis: So they marched us on this plane, it's a C-119, the motors are running. The plane is backfiring, it's burning oil. And I'm sitting there in my seat. Nobody's saying a word, because everybody's terrified. 20 men on this plane, we're all sweating, the temperature's about 95 degrees. It's August in Georgia, and the plane is enclosed. And I'm looking up at the ceiling, and I see a bolt in the ceiling slowly turning around in the ceiling. And the bolt unscrews and falls on the floor. And I see it, and I look around to see if anybody else saw it.

Hayes: A bolt?

Davis: A bolt. But nobody else seems to have seen this bolt fall out of the ceiling. Now I'm really scared. But at the same time, I want to jump out of this plane. I don't want to be flying in this plane. So the plane takes off. My first time on a plane that's actually in the air, and I'm looking around at these other guys, and I'm wondering if they're thinking the same thing that I'm thinking, "What the hell am I doing in here? Why am I jumping out of this plane? I want my mom." And so the plane actually does a huge circle over the entire county there. And we're in the air probably about 20, 25 minutes. Actually, we could have gotten to the drop zone in five to ten minutes. But it's a training flight for the pilots too.

Hayes: Oh, okay.

Davis: Yeah. So we're in the air about 20, 25 minutes, and finally, the green light goes on with the buzzer. The jump masters, we've got two jump masters one on each door. They slide the doors open, and now you get a chance to look out the doors, and that's what terrifies you. Because I had never been up that high before. The earth looks like a quilt, that's what it looks like, like a patch quilt. And you realize that in about a minute, you're going to be coming out that door. And so the jump masters start, they start the jump commands. The first command is stand up. So everybody stands up. And the next command is hook up, and that's where you hook your static line to the cable over your head. Third command is sound off for equipment check. What you do is, check the man's equipment directly in front of you.

Hayes: Oh, that's good.

Davis: You check his parachute, make sure everything is where it's supposed to be. The man behind you checks your parachute. And then you sound off, "Okay," if everything's okay. So that's what you hear, all up and down the line, "Okay, okay, okay." The next command is stand in the door.

Hayes: Stand in the door.

Davis: That's where your knees get weak and that's where some guys actually faint. That's the make it or break it time. And the last command you hear, is "Jump." And then after that, everything happens so fast, you don't have time to think, because the guys go out those doors so fast. It's not like training at all. Going through training, each man was taught to hesitate in the door, calm himself, and jump. It's not like that. You tumble out the door, one man on top of the other. So when I reached the door, I take one last look. Again, the earth looks like a quilt, I close my eyes, and I jump. And the next thing I remember is the prop glass. And if you don't know what that is, that's the glass from the propeller, it hits you. And it's like standing in the ocean, watching a big wave come towards you. And you stand there and you brace yourself and try to stand when that wave hits you. You can't do it. That's what prop glass feels like. It hits you, and it blows you behind the plane. And your static line stretches the full 15 feet. You've got 15 feet of static line. And you start counting. One thousand, two thousand, three thousand. By the time you finish three thousand, before you say four thousand, you should feel that parachute pull.

Hayes: Because the line pulls it then?

Davis: The static line snatches the parachute out of the parachute on your back, all right?

Hayes: And opens it.

Davis: It opens.

Hayes: Okay.

Davis: It's not like free falling.

Hayes: What happens to the line then?

Davis: The line detaches itself.

Hayes: Oh, it does, okay.

Davis: Yeah. The line snatches the parachute out it breaks, and by the time you say "three thousand," before you say "four thousand," you should feel that. If you don't feel it--

Hayes: Oops.

Davis: You're in big trouble, all right? I felt the tug. I opened my eyes, and there I was, hanging in the air, suspended in the air, slowly drifting down. It was the most beautiful feeling I've ever had in my life. And I loved every jump I made.

Hayes: How many did you make then?

Davis: I made 17 jumps.

Hayes: Wow.

Davis: 17.

Hayes: Wow.

Davis: And loved every one of them.

Hayes: Have you thought of ever trying it again?

Davis: No.

Hayes: (laughs) Because it was ex-President Bush, went back and did one at 80 or something.

Davis: No, that was skydiving. Skydiving is not like being a paratrooper, all right? Skydiving is no static line involved. Skydiving, you're jumping from about 20,000 feet. If your parachute doesn't open, you've got all day to get your reserve open.

Hayes: Yeah.

Davis: When you do a static line jump, jumping at 1,250 feet.

Hayes: 1,250 feet.

Davis: 1,250 feet above the ground.

Hayes: And if it doesn't--

Davis: So when you count, when you start that countdown, if your parachute hasn't opened by the time you say "five thousand," you've got about three seconds to get your reserve out. Meanwhile, the ground is rushing up towards you. So by the--

Hayes: Oh my God, 1,200, of course, that makes sense, because if you're really--

Davis: If you're ______________ they can shoot you.

Hayes: That's right. If you were way up there--

Davis: And that happened to some in World War II, they were released so high up. They were target practice.

Hayes: Yeah.

Davis: So they drop you at 1,250 feet. So if your main chute doesn't open, you can pretty much just kiss your butt goodbye, you know? Your reserve is just there to make you feel better, all right?

Hayes: (laughs)

Davis: That's what it's there for. By the time--

Hayes: But you all knew that, right?

Davis: We all did. By the time the reserve opens, you've already hit the ground. So you ________________. So that's why I laugh when people compare a paratrooper to a skydiver.

Hayes: That's a good distinctive, I didn't realize.

Davis: Right. Totally different thing.

Hayes: So accident, then what happened? You're on your way to becoming a famous paratrooper.

Davis: I finished-- I graduated from jump school. And immediately upon graduating from jump school, instead of being allowed to come home for R and R for a few weeks, I was shipped immediately to Fort Bragg. And along with, I don't know, maybe about 25, 50 other paratroopers. And we all arrived at Fort Bragg on a Trailway bus. We all went to our separate units. I ended up going to the, serving with the 82nd M.P. company. I became an M.P. Yeah.

Hayes: Within the paratroop company?

Davis: Oh yeah. Well see, you have to understand. The 82nd Airborne Division is a division. That division is made up of many different companies. So you have infantry, you have artillery, you have engineering companies, you have a company of M.P.s, all right? Now, the M.P. company was the smallest company in the 82nd Airborne Division area.

Hayes: But every one of them was a paratrooper.

Davis: But all of them had to be a paratrooper.

Hayes: So the whole division is paratroopers.

Davis: The whole division are paratroopers.

Hayes: Oh, I didn't think--

Davis: Yes.

Hayes: That seems kind of interesting, yeah.

Davis: 82nd, that's why it's called the 82nd Airborne Division.

Hayes: So the whole thing jumps.

Davis: Everybody jumps.

Hayes: But you have different functions.

Davis: We have different functions, that's right.

Hayes: You also were trained to be with guns and weapons and everything else, and everybody also was--

Davis: Everybody's a soldier.

Hayes: Soldier, okay.

Davis: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Everybody's a soldier. Everybody goes through basic training. It's just that we're all going to have different jobs, okay?

Hayes: Okay, all right.

Davis: Infantry, artillery, you know, medics, the M.P.s, like myself. So I was attached to the 82nd M.P. company. Like I said, it was the smallest company in the division. I think we had about 40 men, 45 men, whereas other companies had hundreds of men, maybe thousands of men. I think at the time I was at Fort Bragg, 82nd Airborne Division had 14,000 men, I think. Of that 14,000, there were probably about 6,000 of them were serving in Vietnam, all right. So I became an M.P., and I was attached to a security platoon, all right? We had different platoons within the 82nd M.P. company. I was attached to security platoon. My job, as a part of security platoon, was to provide security for the administrative staff of the 82nd Airborne Division. That was our job.

Hayes: You were guards.

Davis: We were guards.

Hayes: But I mean, high level guards.

Davis: High level guards. We all had top secret clearance, which meant that we could work in the war rooms, any place, all right? We provided security for General Dean and his staff. Payroll, everything, that was our job. And we also did patrols. And we patrolled the 82nd Airborne Division area.

Hayes: You mean just like a traditional--

Davis: Just like a traditional police officer.

Hayes: --police officer looking for speeding or problems or fights.

Davis: ______________________ or fights, whatever.

Hayes: Now, you were on the base, you weren't assigned into town or anything like that?

Davis: Okay. Primarily, we served on the base.

Hayes: On the base?

Davis: All right? And not the entire base. Fort Bragg had three different M.P. companies, all right? I was attached to the 82nd Airborne Division, 82nd M.P. company. Our area was the 82nd Division area. You also had the 503rd M.P. Company. They covered another part of Fort Bragg.

Hayes: Right.

Davis: And then you had the 118th Airborne Corps M.P. Company. They covered another area. So our area was the 82nd Airborne Division area, but we also did town patrol.

Hayes: Oh, you did? Oh.

Davis: We did town patrol, we usually did town patrol on weekends, especially payday weekends, were the weekends when we did town patrol. But normally, our normal duty area was 82nd Airborne Division area, and normally, that was either foot patrol or Jeep patrol. I started out, because I was a rookie, I started out doing foot patrol. And we worked three shifts. Our shifts were seven to three, three to eleven, and eleven to seven. And because I was a rookie, I started out doing, guess what, eleven to seven.

Hayes: Eleven p.m. until seven a.m.

Davis: Walking. That's what you did.

Hayes: Seniority has rank.

Davis: Seniority had ranks. That's right. You walked a beat. So three o'clock in the morning, rain, snow, sleet, or shine, we walked the beat. And usually, it was pretty boring really. Because you have to keep in mind, because of the fact that even though you're a policeman, you deal with men in the military, men who are disciplined for the most part, men who obey orders. So you didn't have the kind of things that you see that the civilian police officers have to deal with.

Hayes: Right, right.

Davis: You don't see guys hanging around on the corner. You didn't see a lot of drug use. There weren't a lot of fights, you know. It was pretty boring, you know? You wrote up tickets for guys that had parked in the right place. On your beat, if any of the base bars were open, you stopped in the bars, make sure everybody is behaving themselves. Those kind of things, you know?

Hayes: Yeah.

Davis: What everybody looked forward to as an M.P.-- and of course, as time went on, I moved up and so then I started working three to eleven and seven and three. And then I also started doing Jeep patrol. You know, instead of walking, we were in the Jeep. But still pretty much the same thing. Every now and then, a fight would break out, you know, you'd have to take care of that. And there was drug use. Drugs got to be pretty bad during the Vietnam War.

Hayes: Is that right?

Davis: Yeah, a lot of guys coming back from Vietnam.

Hayes: Now what year are we talking about? By now is it up to about '69, '68?

Davis: '69, yep.

Hayes: Yeah. That was heavy duty time.

Davis: It was heavy duty.

Hayes: And people were coming and going from Vietnam in your unit, then, is that?

Davis: Absolutely. Guys were coming and going all the time. And a lot of these guys would come back with the drugs, you know? And a big thing when I was there was marijuana and hash. That was a big thing. And the other thing you have to remember is, about being an M.P. at that time, a lot of the guys that we dealt with as M.P.s, these guys just-- some of these guys just the day before had been in Vietnam fighting.

Hayes: I know, fighting.

Davis: Crawling through rice paddies. And these were not guys who took kindly to you telling them to tuck in their boots, you know? Yeah, really. We had some guys who were really walking a fine line between being just confirmed killers and nice guys.

Hayes: Well, because they'd been in that fight.

Davis: Like I said.

Hayes: And then they bring them back with no transition.

Davis: No transition, nothing. Just a few days before they were in a battle, in a war zone, you know, fighting for their lives, and here they are in Fort Bragg. And so those were the kind of guys we had to deal with. And so you had to learn how to deal with guys in that state of mind. You know, you couldn't come at them, you couldn't be aggressive. You couldn't come at them, and you couldn't be macho with them. They were just as macho as you were.

Hayes: You're a big black guy. Does that make a difference at this time?

Davis: Well let me say, first of all, I was a tall black guy, all right? This was before weights. I'm a big guy now. This was before the weights. I was a tall guy, but I was tall and lean. But a lot of paratroopers were, man. You ran every day, you know. And so I was tall and lean. But like I said, that's why I said I liked being a policeman, that's why I knew I would have made a good police officer. Because I mean, I didn't __________________ with guys. I didn't try to out-macho the next guy, and I always respect, if we had to have a confrontation, I always treated you with respect. That was a key thing. Always treat another man with respect. That's something my father taught me. It didn't matter whether he was making any sense, you acted like he was, you know? So I've had problems a few times, and like I said, four weeks of M.P. training, and it wasn't all classroom. A lot of that stuff was about how to handle yourself in certain situations. We had judo twice a week. We learned take down holds, how to use a billy club. Everything.

Hayes: Did you carry a weapon at all times?

Davis: We carried Smith and Wesson 45s, semiautomatic pistols. And we also had the oak baton, which was a nightstick, about 20 inches long and weighted in the center.

Hayes: Did you usually work pairs, or was this by yourself?

Davis: We worked pairs.

Hayes: Pairs.

Davis: We always worked pairs. And I was going to say, you were asking about town patrol. Town patrol was the thing that we all, every M.P. wanted town patrol.

Hayes: Wanted to do town patrol.

Davis: Town patrol was the icing on the cake. And you had to think about, you have to understand what Fayetteville was like then. You have to understand what Fayetteville was like then. The Fayetteville of the '60s and early '70s was not the Fayetteville that you see now. The Fayetteville when I was there was a Fayetteville of strip joints, X-rated movie houses, bars, pawn shops.

Hayes: It was the base--

Davis: ___________________ so it was a typical military town.

Hayes: Recreating.

Davis: You got it. And cheap motels.

Hayes: Is it all less of that today, being with families and everybody there? Or was it mainly just--

Davis: Oh, there were families. They didn't live in downtown Fayetteville, though. You know, the families were scattered, already on base or around the city. But downtown Fayetteville, they used to call it "Fayette-nam" when I was there, that's what they called it, "Fayette-nam." And I'll tell you how bad things had gotten in Fayetteville. When I was an M.P., our unit, 82nd M.P. unit, got a request to have two M.P.s accompany each civilian police officer in downtown Fayetteville. They were beating up cops.

Hayes: Oh, my goodness.

Davis: And they didn't ask for just any M.P.s, right? Like I said we had three different M.P. companies. Specifically, "We want 82nd M.P.s." There's a reason for that, all right?

Hayes: What was that?

Davis: The reason is this: when I joined the company, 82nd-- Fort Bragg had it's own newspaper. I can't remember if it was weekly, I think it was a weekly newspaper. And I remember picking up this newspaper, I remember it was getting close to Christmas, it was about December. On the front page of this newspaper, there's a cartoon. In the cartoon, you saw Santa Claus with his bag of toys. The bag of toys was on the ground. In the cartoon, it looked like the bag was open and all the toys had spilled out. And there was an M.P. with a billy club beating Santa Claus across the head. And in the picture, you had these stars coming out of Santa Claus's head, you know? And the M.P. that was beating his head was an 82nd M.P., because there's an 82 on the helmet. The caption read, under the cartoon, the caption read "All I said was 'ho, ho, ho.'" That's what the caption said.

Hayes: (laughs)

Davis: That doesn't even [inaudible]

Hayes: (laughing) [inaudible]

Davis: That was the reputation of 82nd M.P. company when I came.

Hayes: I'm going to just stop this for a second so I can change tapes, and you can get something to drink.

(tape change)

Hayes: Okay, we're back with Harry Davis- Harry Lee Davis, Wilmington, North Carolina, and Sherman Hayes, University Librarian, at UNCW on February 22, 2008, Tape Number 2. So anyway, we're picking up that story of why he loved to go to Fayettenam.

Davis: Like I said, at that time, it was called Fayettenam. And the reason for that-- just like I told you, the police department asked if they could have two second 82nd MP companies to accompany each civilian police officer on foot patrol. The reason for that, guys were beating up cops. Like I said a lot of these guys were just back from Vietnam. Just to give you an example of the kind of state of mind and the kind of mentality a lot of these guys had, I was on the town patrol one night and we were walking down Hay Street. Hay Street is the main street that runs through downtown Fayetteville. That's where all the action took place, all right.

(crew talk)

Davis: Hay Street ran through the center of downtown Fayetteville. Like I said, it's where all the action took place. But the thing about Hay Street, Hay Street is where all the white clubs were. The white night clubs, white bars. Hillsboro Street intersected Hay Street. Hillsboro Street is where all the black clubs were.

Hayes: And it was segregated?

Davis: It was segregated, yes. Not by law. Not by purpose, I mean black guys...

Hayes: By choice.

Davis: Yeah, yeah. Black guys hung out with some black guys who hung out on Hay Street and white guys who came over. But basically that's the way it was. And these are two of the roughest streets in Fayetteville, all right. Our town patrol one night in Fayetteville-- I was in Hay Street. My partner and I were walking up Hay Street and we were walking in front of a nightclub. It was a strip joint is what it was. Sidewalk, summertime-- the sidewalk was just packed. Payday weekend, sidewalk packed with G.I.s. And a car drove by and backfired. I think every man on the sidewalk, except me and my partner, hit the sidewalk. They all ducked for cover, yeah. That's how it was. Yeah. The thing about doing town patrol was, man, they always let you at least a day before whether you would have town patrol the next day. And the reason for that is because it took all day to get ready, all right. Town patrol, when you report for duty-- as an M.P., when we report for duty on base, it was, you know, fatigues, which, you know...

Hayes: A certain type of uniform?

Davis: Yeah, yeah, just green fatigues. I mean, of course, as an M.P., you always had to be really clean, really sharp. But all basic fatigue. Town patrol, Class A uniform, all right. Class A uniform for an 82nd M.P. meant this, your dress uniform fresh out of the cleaners, your ribbons, your medals, brass, everything.

Hayes: You wore everything?

Davis: Brass had to shine. No fingerprints on it. It couldn't be dull. Gloves on uniform, shined. I would work on my boots for up to two hours. Boots had to be spit shined to a high gloss.

Hayes: And the theory is?

Davis: The theory is you were representing the 82nd Airborne Division. The theory was-- not the theory, the fact was you could not dress a soldier down by the way he was dressed unless you were dressed better than he was. And we had inspection before we climbed in that Jeep to go to town.

Hayes: Oh, you had inspection.

Davis: You had to be inspected. And if your uniform was not bright, you could not go into town. That's the way it was. Everybody. So you spent all day getting ready for that evening, okay. And four M.P.s to a Jeep, usually two Jeeps. You hit Fayetteville and of course-- and you have to understand something about 82nd M.P.s, all right, all the other M.P.s wore-- we called them bus driver hats, you know, they got the little bill, you know, the kind of hat bus drivers wore.

(overlapping conversation)

Davis: 82nd M.P.s, we wore helmet liners. We wore-- not a helmet helmet, liners. That's the lining on the side of the helmet. It was made out of plastic. So it was black. It was shined to a high gloss. It had the 82nd M.P. emblem, the wings on the side, 82nd...

(overlapping conversation)

Davis: We were sharp. We had white gloves on with white boots on our holsters. We were shined. We were clean. The moment we stepped out of the Jeep, we caught everybody's eye. People watched us, groups, civilians and soldiers alike. And I'm saying all this because the first time I did it, man, I was in awe of the kind of respect we got, you know. I mean it just blew my mind. The moment we got out of the Jeep and started walking down the street, I mean every-- people driving by, everybody, man. Some people would honk at you and wave, but everybody looked at you. The soldiers gave you the utmost respect. Hay Street on payday night, 82nd M.P.s could walk down the street, everybody ___________m. Nobody liked the M.P.s. So, you know, it didn't matter if guys would say things to you. But nobody bothered with an 82nd M.P. __________ M.P.s, two of them walking down Hay Street on payday weekend, it never happened. You know why it never happened? Because they didn't do it. They didn't do it, all right.

Hayes: All right, so how'd you get hurt?

Davis: Okay.

(overlapping conversation)

Davis: It's how I got started as an artist.

Hayes: It's how you got started as an artist.

Davis: I was off duty this particular day. We just had an I.G. inspection, inspector general. That's where the commanding general or a general will come through a particular company and inspect everything, weapons, uniform, the barracks, everything, the mess hall. And we had just had an I.G. inspection, so everybody was really dressed up. You know, everybody is feeling good. We passed inspection. It was dinner time. We were in the mess hall. I'm sitting at a table with four other M.P.s. And another M.P. comes into the mess hall. He's carrying his tray and he sits down at our table. And I know him. He's a new guy in the company, all right. And he sits at our table and the four of us who were already there, you know, we're eating and talking, you know, like, just guys shooting the breeze. And so, this young guy, he sits there at our table and I know him. He knows me. We didn't hang out or anything but I didn't have any problems with him, no qualms. I didn't have any problems with him, he didn't' have any problems with me. And so, I remember I had a pair of shades on the table.

Hayes: A pair of?

Davis: A pair of shades, sunglasses.

(overlapping conversation)

Davis: I had a pair of sunglasses on the table. And so, this guy, he asks, "Whose shades are these?" So some boy says, "Those are Dave's shades"-- meaning Harry Davis. They called me Dave. So those were Dave's shades. So he said, "Man, I like these." He said, "Dave, I think I'm going to keep these," you know, just joking around, you know. So we all eating and I said, "Yeah, right, put my shades back," you know. So we're eating. And he said, "No, I'm serious. I'm taking these shades." He said, "Davis, what you want me to do? [inaudible] just take them, all right. So we just woofed them back and forth. So I just continued-- I'm cutting the steak and we all laughing back and forth. And he's laughing too. And the next thing I know he pulls his pistol out, still laughing, right. And here's the thing about being around guns all the time, you're around them so much you get accustomed to them. You take them for granted, all right. You don't realize how dangerous they are. And so nobody even blinks an eye, he pulls his gun out and says, "No, I'm taking your shades" and-- he's got his gun in his hand, but nobody's concerned because first of all, we're all M.P.s. We're around guns. The second thing is we all know the gun's not loaded, all right. We know that because outside of our mess hall, outside of our barracks, we got a 55 gallon drum full of sand. Before you enter any building, [inaudible] if you have any weapon. You clear it in that barrel. That's standard. We all do it, take the 45. Make sure there's no rounds in it. You know, you pull the slide back and put it back in the holster and come in.

Hayes: You shoot? I mean you actually shoot it?

Davis: No, no, no, you just check it. No, no, no. Well, that's just in case there's a round and it goes off, then it'll go into the barrel. But there should be no rounds in the pistol at all, all right. And that's what you do to check it. So we know this. We know this guy's got an empty guy. So meanwhile, we keep talking and he's still woofing about the shades. And so, I turn and say something to him and he pulls the slide back on his 45, right, (makes gun sound) like that. The only thing was, it shouldn't have made the sound it made because when he does this, (makes gun sound), it goes click. You heard the round go in the chamber. That's where everybody-- and not only guys at my table heard it but everybody in the mess hall heard it because the room gets silent, right. And I know he must have heard it too, but I still believe this too. I still believe that that he wasn't wired all there. I still believe that today. But this is during the Vietnam War. If your trigger finger worked, you could get into the military, all right. So everybody hears the live one in the chamber, including myself. Now, I'm getting mad, all right. So I stop cutting my steak and I look at him. And I'm not going to tell you exactly what I said, you know. But I said something to him. But right in the middle of my sentence, there's this boom, all right. Big explosion. And so, I'm still sitting there. I had a knife in my left hand, a fork in my right hand and it's got this steak on it. And I'm sitting there and I've still holding the steak. I've still got steak on my knife and I'm sitting there. I don't feel anything, you know. All there was was this smoke between me and him. And everybody at the table-- there's just dead silence in the mess hall. So I start looking around to see if anybody-- I know the gun has gone off. I'm looking around to see if anybody got hit. Then I realized everybody is looking at me, just like you are looking at me. Everybody is starring at me. And so, I start looking. And I feel fine, you know. And then I see a tiny, little hole in the lapel of my jacket. And that's when I realized this fool just shot me, you know. And then he drops the gun on the floor and jumps up and starts screaming and starts running around the mess hall, all right. So now, he's freaking me out, you know. So I remember I getting up from the table and collapsing on the floor. And so, that started my...

Hayes: What happened to him? I hope he's in jail or something. I mean he shot you.

Davis: This is the military, all right. First of all, it was deemed an accidental shooting, okay.

(overlapping conversation)

Davis: Like I said, he was stupid. You know, he was a stupid kid, you know. And it was deemed an accidental shooting. So I think he was-- and I found all this out later, he was restricted to quarters, forfeiture of pay, reduction in rank. And that was it. Meanwhile, me, I start my long road through rehab and recovery.

Hayes: Did it hit the spine?

Davis: It hit my collarbone. It ricocheted off my collar bone, went down through my chest and came out under my left shoulder blade. But it went through my spinal cord and spinal column.

Hayes: And it knocked your legs out? That was where it knocked out?

Davis: Well, like I said, it hit my spinal cord so it left me paralyzed in my legs. That's what happened. And so, from there, you know, Womac County Hospital, from Womac, Walter Reed Hospital, from Walter Reed...

Hayes: Do you feel like you got good care? Were they good to you?

Davis: Oh, it was extremely good care.

Hayes: I mean people did the right thing for you?

Davis: Extremely well. Well, yeah.

(overlapping conversation)

Davis: Yeah, yeah. I mean if something were to happen today, who knows, I might not be in a wheelchair. But for that time, you know, it was very good.

Hayes: So now you're heading back to Wilmington?

Davis: After--I don't know.

Hayes: Months?

Davis: Maybe a year in rehab.

Hayes: Really?

Davis: Yeah, ultimately about a year. I come back home. Again, just like after high school, no idea of what I'm going do for the rest of my...

Hayes: Well, you had a good plan. You happened to become a police officer and that really sounded like you loved that.

Davis: I did. Yeah, yeah. And keep in mind, you know, police officers-- that was just the first stage. My ultimate goal was not police officer but law enforcement as an FBI agent or...

(overlapping conversation)

Davis: That's where I wanted to go. So now, here I am, man, in a wheelchair and I have no idea what I'm going to do for the rest of my life and really don't even care, you know. That's where I was, just the state of mind I was in. And one day my mother bought me a paint by number kit. And I remember it had three drawings in it with six little cups of paint. And from the first time-- and I tell people this, the first time I dipped that brush in that paint, it was like a light went off. Yeah. And I know this is what God intended me to do, man, because it was in there all the time. And I painted those three little drawings and then I had my mother go and buy more some paints, canvases, brushes. And then I started getting books and magazines on how to paint, you know, how to paint people, how to paint animals, how to paint landscapes or seascapes.

Hayes: And let's talk about the honest truth of Wilmington at that time. There wasn't any black artists, was there? I mean was there any model for you to say, "I want to be like so and so?" I mean, you know, we're talking what, '70?

Davis: Yeah.

Hayes: 1970. I mean there were lots of good folks, but I don't-- I mean you weren't looking to some model, right. I mean did you know any of the artists?

Davis: Surely. Not only did I not know any artists in Wilmington, I didn't know of any black artists in the country-- in the world. Like I said, that was just something totally alien to me, so no. And even, you know, after I started painting, I never thought about painting as a career. It was just something to do, something to pass time, something to give you satisfaction, something that took my mind off my condition, all right. That's what it was.

Hayes: If you were in great shape today, when did you start to say, "I've got to keep, you know, going on this?" because to be an artist, you can't not have good arms and good mind and so forth. I mean did that start right away? Did you start to get back into...

Davis: Let's see, I was injured in 1970. Oh, man, it really took years before I can say that I really reached a place where I was accepting of what had happened to me, you know. I mean when I came home from the hospital, I mean I was 6'5". And when I was injured-- the day I was injured, I think I weighed 197 pounds. Yeah, which is not big but it's pretty-- I mean I was all lean muscle, you know. When I came home, I weighed 149 pounds. I looked like a refugee from a concentration camp. I was lost all my muscle mass and weight and everything. And the first few weeks, that's the way I was. I mean I was just skin and bones. I was weak. And I really think the only reason I'm alive today is just because of my mother. She was just determined to keep me alive, good home cooking. So I've gradually started putting the weight back on, but I was still-- physically, I was still nowhere near where I am today. But one day-- and I can't tell you when, all right, and I can't tell where I was, but one day, I just woke up and realized that hey, it is what it is. This is where I am. This is the way it's going to be. I've got to deal with it, all right. So I had to make a choice. I either take a gun and blow my brains out or I become the baddest dude in a wheelchair the worlds ever seen. So I decided to become the baddest dude in a wheelchair the worlds ever seen. And I called my V.A. rep, a man named Mr. Day. I still remember his name, man.

Hayes: Mr.?

Davis: Day.

Hayes: D-a-y?

Davis: D-a-y. That's my V.A. rep. I called Mr. Day. I said, "Mr. Day, I want to lift some weights." I thought maybe I could swing my arms and something. He said, "Okay. What else you want?" I said, "Well, right now that's it." So about two weeks later, I get these weights by, you know...

(overlapping conversation)

Davis: Yeah, yeah, arm bells and dumbbells and everything, 110 pounds and I started working out. Started working out every day. And the other thing that I was-- the other thing that happened was I was required once a year to report to the V.A. hospital in Richmond, Virginia. Why a V.A. hospital once a year? For a physical.

Hayes: You still have to do that?

Davis: Well, now, we have V.A. clinic care in Wilmington. So anyway-- and every day there, once I decided okay, I'm going to make myself-- I'm going to reshape myself, I started asking questions of physical therapists, doctors. I said, "Doc, what do I need to know? What kind of food do I need to eat? What do I need to do?" And I listened to him, man. And everything he told me to do, I started doing, the therapists too. So the first thing I started doing was taking physical therapy, all right. I can exercise my upper body, but I had to take care of my legs. Generally, when you're paralyzed, what happens is the muscles start to atrophy, waste away. So I started taking physical therapy indefinitely. And I started eating the right foods. I realized I had to increase my protein intake, what the doctors told me. So everything I could find out about how to stay healthy as a paraplegic, I started doing and kept lifting weights. And then, man, I got into-- my friend-- I told you I remain friends with the guys that I grew up with in Hillcrest. I have a friend, Abdul Sharif [ph?]. Abdul goes in the Marine Corps. That's why I went in the Marine. That's why I tried to go in the Marine Corps because he became a Marine. And Abdul is like coming by to see me. And by this time, he had joined the Nation of Islam. You know, he's an Orthodox Muslim not-- at that time, it was the Nation of Islam. And then he was like myself. One of the other things I started doing is reading, not only art books, but I just started reading everything because I didn't do anything else, so I'd just read. He was reading to me. And so, he came by one day. I decided to tell him-- and I didn't know it at the time, but he started taking karate in the Philippines. And I used to have this like second degree black belt or something. So he came by and said, "Harry, you know, there's exercises I think can help you," you know. I wouldn't hear it, but he kept bugging. Now, he said, "Look, if you do this or that"-- and he knows the kind of guy I am. You know, he showed me something and I couldn't get the hang of it. Once you frustrated with something-- I said, "No, no, I can do this." So that's how I started out. Then I started asking him little questions like-- one of the things that happened to me was, man, I went from being an M.P., 6'5", 197 to be this little weak guy in a wheelchair. And I really felt helpless, man. I lost all my self-confidence, my self-esteem. And I just wanted to get that back, so I started asking questions. Supposedly, the guy who does this to me-- and he started showing me things. He said, "What you ought to do is take karate with us." So I'm in a wheelchair, how am I going to take karate. He said, "Look, you can't do kicking, but you still got good hands."

Hayes: So you're a karate person?

Davis: I signed on with him and stuck with it for 10 years. And for most of that time, I was his only student because like I said, he was a Muslim and he's an ex-Marine. And most of the people who signed with his class didn't stick with it. They just-- they'd hang for a few weeks, a few months and after a while, they just couldn't take it. But me, I'm like okay, I reached the point where I wanted to quit too and he said, "No, we're going to go one more week." So he stretched it to 10 years. So I got my confidence back and it did a lot for me physically too. The other thing I did was-- he used to run around Greenfield Lake. I used to go out with him in my wheelchair and he'd run and I pushed myself around the lake. And at that time, now this is back in the '70s, man-- and that's why I'm happy for these soldiers who have been injured now because medicine and medical technology has come so far. When I was first injured, we had these big, heavy, stainless steel wheelchairs that weighed about 100 pounds. And that's what I used to roll around in. I used to roll around the lake in. But what it did for me was, pushing that heavy chair that was not designed for pushing really increased my strength. So one day I called Mr. Day and I said, "Mr. Day, I want to get into wheelchair racing. And I saw a wheelchair in this magazine that I want to get." And it was a racing wheelchair and I didn't know there was such a thing as guys who raced wheelchairs until I started reading this magazine. And he said, "Harry, do you know how much these wheelchairs cost?" And I said, "Yes, sir." I said, "About $1,500 is what I'm looking at." And he said, "You know"-- he said, "The V.A. is not in the business of providing, you know, racing wheelchairs but we'll give you two standard wheelchairs. And I'll tell you what, if you can send me proof that you're actually involved in wheelchair racing, I'll see what I can do." So at that time, the [inaudible] news had done a story about me and Abdul, you know, doing...

(overlapping conversation)

Davis: Yeah. So I sent him a copy. About two weeks later, a truck pulls up and it had this long box in it.

Hayes: There's the wheelchair.

Davis: ... lightweight, titanium, racing wheelchair.

Hayes: Now, really, you could tell the difference from just like...

Davis: It's the difference between a '59 Buick and a 2008 Lamborghini, you know. And Abdul couldn't keep up with me.

Hayes: So now, you've got your person. Did you go to UNCW at some point? When did you decide to go to school?

Davis: Let's go back to the painting. So I'm painting now. I've gone from the paint by number thing. Now, I'm buying my own canvases and I'm painting.

Hayes: So all that's self-taught?

Davis: Self-taught, no lessons, just what I've read. I'm painting landscapes and seascapes. And I'm doing that because that's the easiest thing for me to paint. But I'm learning. Then I start doing wildlife. So I'm painting animals. And soon, I become bored with that. Then, I start painting the people, which is really the most difficult subject matter you can find, at least for me, painting people. But I keep with it. And every time I do a painting, I find out I learn something new, all right. So the more I paint, the more I learn. The more I paint, the more I learn, the better I get.

Hayes: Are people starting to notice that you're a painter? I mean are they buying it?

Davis: One day, this lady, who's a friend of mine, comes by and she sees a painting I've done. I had just finished it. It's a painting of Jesus standing in a doorway. And all I did was copy a picture from a-- I think it was the Bible or something. But it came out pretty good. And she wanted to buy the painting. And she-- "You know, how much you want for this painting, Harry?" And I didn't know what to tell her because it never occurred to me that somebody would actually want to pay more for one of my paintings. And she just kept bugging me about this painting so I said, "Okay, you know, $50." And I think if I asked for $50, maybe she'd give me $25. She pulled out her checkbook and wrote the check for 50 bucks.

Hayes: Well, there's an eye opener.

Davis: And I tell kids this story when I'm talking in schools. Money is one of the greatest motivators in the world, man. Money will make you do some things. I just went into painting overtime then. And I got better and better. And then, by word of mouth, you know, people just started coming to see my artwork and I'd sell a piece here and sell a piece there. And then, I started reading art magazines. And I discovered that I could actually have my paintings turned into prints. So I started having prints of my work done, so people who couldn't afford my originals, they were buying my prints. And it just took off, man. It took off. And about 1975, I was still painting but now I decided okay-- and here's the other thing-- boy, I'm rambling. Must be something to do with you or this camera. But all this stuff is coming back. When I came home-- and like I said, I was very depressed young man. And I used to have this same dream almost every night. Certain things in a dream would change but basically it was the same dream. In one dream, I'd be back in the V.A. hospital but I would be in a hallway and I would be the only person in the hospital. And it was always like dark and gloomy in there, right. And I would try to find my way back to my ward. And I could never remember how to get back to my ward. Now, in this dream, I'd be rolling down these hallways, man. And it was like this feeling of depression and fear would just come over me. And like I said, the hallways would always be like semi-dark, you know. So just really an upsetting dream. And the other dream, I would be back in school, back in _______. And I-- again, the sky is always dark, grayish green color, dark clouds, really gloomy. And the bell would ring and suddenly, all the other kids would disappear. And I couldn't remember what class I was supposed to be in. And I would be wandering from class to class looking in but none of the students looked familiar, none of the teachers looked familiar. What they were saying, I couldn't understand. I was always lost. And the third part of this dream, I would be in some town or city and I would be like walking down the streets. The streets were always deserted, the same dark, gloomy sky. And I would be lost. I'd be trying to get home. Same dream, man, every night almost. Once I started painting, once I started lifting weights, racing wheelchairs and going to college, the dream went away, man. So I know what it was. I was lost. I was trying to find my way. That's all it was, man.

Hayes: And you went to college at UNCW?

Davis: UNCW 1975.

Hayes: And what program were you taking at that point, just a college degree or were you trying to do art?

Davis: No, no, no. I never even-- I don't know why, but I didn't want to take art because I remembered how I hated art classes. That's why.

Hayes: So what is your degree in?

Davis: My degree is in sociology, minor in criminal justice. Yeah.

Hayes: Well, you were comfortable with that.

Davis: You know, I still didn't see myself becoming a professional artist. I was going to go into sociology or again, some kind of law enforcement.

(overlapping conversation)

Davis: Yeah, yeah, I can do that.

Hayes: So when did you graduate?

Davis: '79.

Hayes: '79, fantastic. But the art is still there.

Davis: The art is still there. I'm selling more artwork. Now, I'm traveling around and doing art shows, meeting famous people, buying my art.

Hayes: Who's bought your art? Who are the famous people?

Davis: The first famous person...

Hayes: Of course, what matters is if anybody buys your art, they're famous, right? (laughs) But some people have been really attuned to your work. You must be proud of it.

Davis: Well, actually, the first famous person to own a piece of my art was Jane Kennedy. You know her? Yeah, she was a beautiful model, actress. She was on TV a lot back in the mid '70s. You know, Jane Kennedy? And I gave her a piece of art. The second famous person to own a piece of my art was James Brown.

Hayes: The singer, James Brown?

Davis: The singer, James Brown. I had done a portrait of him. And it just so happened, he came to Wilmington at Trask Coliseum to do a concert. And I made it a point to get backstage and meet him and gave him the portrait, a picture of me and him together. And then, like I said, I'm traveling doing art shows. I used to do what's called the Black Art Circuit.

Hayes: What's that?

Davis: Well, it's kind of like black art shows that are put on by black organizations or black entrepreneurs.

Hayes: Or like for nonprofits?

Davis: No, no, no. These-- what they're doing is these organizations or these entrepreneurs, they will rent or lease some large area like an arena or a convention center. And then they will sell booth space. You know, you can buy a booth space.

Hayes: Well, is it because the customers are black or the subject matter is black or the artists are black?

Davis: The artists typically are all black. The artwork tends to be black subject matter.

Hayes: But the customers aren't necessarily?

Davis: The customers are primarily black but not entirely, all right. And just so you or anybody else won't think that this is art-- like average or mediocre art, I would recommend anybody who likes art to attend some of these black art shows. They're not called black art shows but you know what I'm saying. I mean I met some amazing artists at these shows. I have seen some amazing art at these shows. And I started doing these shows. And I'm glad I did because being an artist in a small town like Wilmington, once you start getting a little recognition, your ego kind of takes over and you think you're all that. You think your artwork is really good. And all of a sudden, I start doing these shows and I start meeting black artists, you know, who have been painting longer than I have or I had, and their work is like really amazing. I mean their work like blows my work right out of the doors. It made me realize, okay, I need to tighten up my game. I need to really work it. So I'm glad I did that. Another thing I started doing was I started traveling to New York City. I was dating a girl at the time who was from Brooklyn. So I went to New York with her one year. And I remember coming out of the Holland Tunnel into Manhattan, and man, my first trip, right, I see all these people on the streets, all the traffic, all these buildings. And I'm sticking my head out of my van window. And I took a deep breath. And she said, "What are you doing?" I said, "You don't smell that?" And she said, "What do you mean, the garbage?" And I said, "No, the money." It smells like money. And so we drove around. And I got her to show me around Manhattan, especially down in the business district. And I'm thinking. I'm looking at all these people. So these are customers, man. All I have to do is figure out how to get them to see my art. So I told her, I said, "You know what I'm going to do? Next year, I'm coming up here and I'm going to set up on these sidewalks."

Hayes: Really? That's what you planned to do?

Davis: That's my plan. She said, "You can't do that." I said, "Why not?" She said, "They don't allow that" I said, "Why not?" Because the police will go around and round people up who try to sell on the street. I said, "Well, I'll tell you what, I'll do it until they run me off." And the next year, we were in New York, headed downtown in the Wall Street area. The hardest part was finding a parking space in the right place. I found a parking space on Water Street, in front of Chemical Bank, about a block away from Wall Street and I set up. It must have been about 10:30, 11:00 that morning on Monday. I set up on the sidewalk next to my van. Mostly unframed prints, some framed prints.

Hayes: Are they your originals of art or no?

Davis: I had a few originals kept under the van because I wanted to see how things went before I brought out the big stuff. And so, waiting for lunchtime, about 11:59, people started spilling out of the buildings. They were lining up by my-- not all buying but they were looking. And I'm selling. And I got my credit card [inaudible]. They see people selling art, but usually guys will just throw some art on the sidewalks. Man, I got my [inaudible], got everything set up, take your credit cards. And like I said, right in front of the Chemical Bank-- and one of the reasons I set up there was because the sidewalk is so deep. My van is here. The bank itself is out to that street. It's right in front of the van.

Hayes: So you're not blocking traffic?

Davis: Not blocking traffic. Right in front of the bank is an ATM machine. And on both sides of me are food vendors, okay.

Hayes: Okay, so where is this entrepreneurship coming from here?

(overlapping conversation)

Davis: Observing Sherman, that's how I survived, man. Once I saw the people, I saw the sidewalks and plus, I saw other vendors, they weren't selling art, just selling other things. I said, "Okay." And what I found out was sure, the cops don't like guys selling fake pocketbooks, fake watches and nudie magazines on the sidewalk. But my art, I never had a problem.

Hayes: They never bothered you?

Davis: Never. Only one time. So anyway, I'm there set up in front of the Chemical Bank and I'm selling these prints, man. I'm making money. And so, lunch hour ends and everybody goes back to work. And now, I'm say, "Okay, do I stay here or do I move somewhere?" I said, "Okay." You know, the girl I'm with, Bernadine, she's from New York herself. Let's move to another spot. We'll get catch them when they get off from work. So she takes me to another place. You know where we go at? We sell across the street from the World Trade Center. There's a park there. And that became one of my hot spots. And that's why when those buildings went down, man, it really hit me that hey, a lot of those people bought art from me were in those buildings, you know.

Hayes: How many years did you do that then?

Davis: I did it, gee-- I got my book here. And I kept notes and everything. I did it for about five, six years.

Hayes: That's great. And you made money. You were starting to be a practicing artist.

Davis: I made money, man. During the lunch hours and when people were getting off of work, I would hang out down on Wall Street, the financial district. In the evenings, I would head up to Broadway.

Hayes: Oh, really? There's enough light there to...

Davis: It didn't matter. It was dark. But New York, they don't ever turn the lights off. And what I would do, we would get a paper called "The Village Voice" and find out what plays were going on. I specifically was looking for plays with black actors and actresses because that's what black people cover. My art was the black people. I was set up outside of one of these theaters. Again, I can't do that. But I did it. I set up outside one of the theaters and I was selling to people while they were buying their tickets. Also, what I would do is I would take one of my prints and roll it up and put it in a mailing tube along with a note. And I would write a little note to the actor or actresses in the play. I would say, "Dear Mr. Washington"-- to Denzel Washington, "My name is Harry Davis. This print is for you. I'm the artist. If you have time, please stop by to view some of my own work. I'll be right outside the theater."

Hayes: What a great idea. They would come?

Davis: Nell Carter, Ruby Dee Bill Cosby, all of them. When they finished, they would all come and look. They all wouldn't buy, but they would look for me. Denzel bought and Nell Carter bought, you know.

Hayes: And Bill Cosby, you sold later to him, right?

Davis: I gave Bill Cosby a piece, 'cause I knew he had that show, you know. So Nell Carter actually bought two paintings from me. Denzel bought one. But yeah, I sold a lot of prints, man. But that's what I was doing in New York City. You asked me if the police ever gave me any problems. One of the things that I would do on weekends, I would go into the Village and I would set up-- I had one spot in the Village where I always set up. It was right in front of a Black Rock Cafe, all right, and the busiest street in the Village. Have you ever been to the Village? Okay. So you know what kind of people hang out in the Village. All kinds. And I was set up in front of Black Rock Cafe. And I would sell to tourists, people who lived in the area. I did well there. Police officers would come by and they'd look at my work. Never had a problem. The only time I had trouble, I got really cocky. And I was driving by the Empire State Building. And I saw all these tourists. And I said, "Whoa, that's where I need to be."

(overlapping conversation)

Davis: I waited until a freight truck moved and pulled my van in. I parked on the sidewalk and got all my stuff set up. I'm sitting there and people started to buy a few prints. And this truck pulls up behind me, a black panel truck and this cop gets out. And he's dressed in black, all right, like SWAT or something. Now, I always have a standard story to use with police officers. Any time a cop asks me if I had a permit or if I had permission to be there, I would say, "Officer, I called City Hall and I talked to Mrs"-- I'd make up a name. "And she told me as long as I could prove that I was a disabled veteran, I would be fine. So she said all I needed was my DD-214." My discharge papers. And so, they didn't know. Cops didn't know. He'd so, "Uh, OK, you got it?" and I'd say, "Yes, sir." He'd say, "All right, all right."

Hayes: (laughter) And you're in a wheelchair.

Davis: In a wheelchair because we have disabled veteran tags on the van. And this guy, he pulls up. And I'm not worried. You know, so he's a cop. I got my story ready. So he comes over and he looks at my art. He said, "Hey, Buddy, you got a permit to be here?" And I said, "Officer, I called City Hall and I spoke to Miss Corbett [ph?] and she told me as long as I had my DD-214 to prove I was a disabled veteran, she said I could set up anywhere." Okay. Can I say what he said?

Hayes: You can say it. It's going just print. You can use those letter words.

Davis: Well, I'll tell you-- hey, I'm gonna tell it like it was, you know. And so, he says-- so I'm digging in my backpack. I have a DD-214 right here. He said, "Okay, buddy, I'm going in here to get a cup of coffee. When I come out, if you're still here, I'm throwing you and your frigging art in that truck."

Hayes: (laughs) Oh, wow!

Davis: And he walks into the road. I said, "Bernie, pack up. Let's get out of here. He is not going for it."

Hayes: He wasn't going for it, right (laughs)? Now, what about in Wilmington? You know, the paper must have picked up that you were starting to be successful and you had some shows. I mean but the problem I suppose is how many people can buy a Harry Davis. I mean I have some.

Davis: Well, that's right. You're right.

Hayes: Were you getting respect as an artist?

Davis: I was getting a lot of recognition, "Star News" had done an article, "Wilmington Journal." I'd been on TV a few times. So I mean I was pretty well known. But at that particular time, I said it was the '70s and '80s and-- well, in the '80s and '90s, I was probably better known outside of town.

Hayes: Yeah, that's what you told me before. I mean that's kind of-- and I've heard it from other artists. It's kind of you're like your hometown doesn't ever...

Davis: I think there's a verse in the Bible that says, "A prophet is never known in his own country." It applies to artists too, man. In Wilmington, not so much. When I go to other places, it's like this is Harry Davis, the Harry Davis. Listen, Savannah, Georgia, they gave me the key to the city, yeah, you know. I met the mayor of Baltimore, Mayor Curtis Smoltz [ph?].

Hayes: Yeah, you've done a lot up in Baltimore. Was that-- or do they just have a good-- people who collect up there or what? What's different in Baltimore?

Davis: Look, I have been as far south as Miami, Florida and as far north as Boston, as far west as Los Angeles, California. And I've always done better outside of Wilmington. Baltimore was good to me because I used to do a festival there called The AFFRAM Festival. AFFRAM, African- American Festival. And it used to be held at the Baltimore Convention Center. And the first time that I did a huge convention center-- the first time I did it, I was there with maybe 100 other artists, man. But I went in and at that time, I had about five or six of the best paintings I have ever done since I've been painting. The pipe player up there is one of them. And that's just one, but I had about six of the best paintings I've done in my career. And I took all six of those paintings along with my other work. And I was amazed at the reaction there. The next year, they gave me two booths. The first year I did it, that night, people were standing five or six deep around my booth, just staring at my paintings, not buying anything. These were black, inner city Baltimore-- people from Baltimore, a lot of young kids, black kids. And what I used to do back then, I wouldn't sit at my booth. I would go across the aisle at another booth and I would watch people. I would watch them as they looked at my art just to see how they reacted. And people were just standing there. It was like they were in a museum. It was like they were at a-- they were in a church looking at something sacred. I mean they were just standing there, man, even little kids. They weren't fidgeting or nothing. They were looking at my art.

Hayes: Well, let's talk about subjects then, okay. We'll do a diversion here because you're now a...

(overlapping conversation)

Hayes: No, that's fine. You're a painter and you've had different seasons of what you want to paint. I mean when you get into a groove of a subject and kind of go until it dries up because as I'm looking here and move the camera, one that's kind of dear to my heart is your boxing series because you had a big show out at the Randall Library. Was it Reuben Carter or Hurricane? Reuben Hurricane. But when did that start and what was the motivation there for boxing? I mean it really is a great series.

Davis: Well-- and you hit the nail right on the head. I have done a series of series. I have done a series of, you know, series. The first series of paintings was called People of Africa. I started painting people of Africa. And I would do research of different tribes of different countries and tribes of Africa. And I was always fascinated. I don't do as many now. But at one point in my career, that's all I painted. Now, I was really fascinated by the continent of Africa.

Hayes: You can keep talking but there's-- you said that was what?

(crew talk)

Hayes: The one that you commented-- one of the best ones and you called that?

(overlapping conversation)

Hayes: But I have seen that and I think it resonates, right, from a cultural standpoint to black people that this is-- but you even did some with the camels and so forth. So not just the image of black Africa that's the deepest, darkest whatever, it's all parts of Africa, which I think is great because it-- and is that what people-- many times, African-Americans are just struck by here's part of my history. Is that the way you think of it?

Davis: That's what I've noticed. That's what was happening in Baltimore, yeah, because most of these people had never seen representations of African people that looked like that. And even today, any time anything about Africa comes up on TV or if you've seen the newspaper or magazine, all these tiny, dehydrated, starving little babies, people dressed in rags...

(overlapping conversation)

Davis: ... that's all you ever see or hear about Africa, the people I painted were well fed, were dressed in beautiful robes, you know. They looked healthy and smart.

Hayes: Now, you say you do the research too. You're just not making this up.

(overlapping conversation)

Hayes: ...what, are you reading the material and...

Davis: Absolutely. When I first started painting people of Africa, I would just paint whatever picture I came across. I didn't have to know anything about the people. But I was doing a show at Hickory, North Carolina, of all places, and I had a painting on display called Wodaabe Herdsmen. Wodaabe people are African people who live in Northern Africa, in the Sahara Desert. Anyway, I just painted an old Wodaabe herdsman. And wouldn't you know it, but here come three young black men from Africa, from Ethiopia, of all places walking down the street of North Carolina. And these guys, they saw the painting and they got excited and they said, "That's where we from. You know those people. We know these people. Have you been there? Do you know"-- and he started asking these questions. I couldn't answer a question about the people in my painting.

Hayes: But they thought it was a good painting.

Davis: They did. They recognized exactly what it was. But I realized then I can't be painting these people and not knowing anything about them. So I started reading everything I could get my hands on about Africa, you know, everything. And every time I did a painting, I did the research. I made sure. Okay, is this the way they wear their hair? Is this the kind of clothes that they wear just like my piece back there. Of course, you wont' see it on camera, called the House of Warrior.

Hayes: Is that that one straight back?

Davis: Yeah. Action in person.

Hayes: Those are great. And you use such bold colors, was that always kind of your early on color?

Davis: Always. Always used bright colors (coughs) and I think-- no, I don't think. I know. I paint the way I paint because I'm self taught. I've never really learned how to paint, all right. I never really learned how to mix colors. I never learned all the things that an artist needs to know about, complimentary colors, primary colors. So I would paint-- I would use my colors straight from the tubes, man, you know. I wouldn't thin 'em out [inaudible]. My colors are intense. They're bright. But that's how people recognize my work. People tell me I know your work.

Hayes: But now that you know how, you still do the same...

(overlapping conversation)

Hayes: Well, I'm looking right above you, the yellow-- what's that called?

Davis: Yellow Man.

Hayes: Yeah. And I'm not doing justice with this-- you know, with the lights here. But that's amazing. Now, is that Africa? That almost feels to me like New Zealand there. Is it New Zealand as far as that particular...

(overlapping conversation)

Davis: Sherman, you are a wise man. That's why you are a librarian. Papua, New Guinea.

Hayes: All right. See, I didn't know that. I read enough and those were called Maur-- the Maura [ph?] is that right? No, it's not. Okay.

Davis: Very similar, yeah.

Hayes: Now, that is great. It is bright and detailed. And the other one is the-- you know, compared to some of your other ones, he's looking right at you. Is that a new kind of one? You know, in other words-- and so is that tiger next to him.

Davis: Actually, I did Yellow Man and another piece called Yellow Girl. And Yellow Girl is actually his daughter. And they're painted like that because they were both participating in a puberty ceremony and they're both staring at you. And that's just the way he looked in the photograph. But it worked, you know. And one of the things that I have learned to do over the years I've been painting is anytime I do a portrait painting, I always try to concentrate on the eyes. Get the eyes right and everything else falls into place.

Hayes: Tell me some other series. I see animals. You said for a while you were very much into animals. And the boxing, we talked about.

Davis: No, I didn't talk about the boxing.

Hayes: All right, good. Let's talk about that.

Davis: As soon as I talk about my People of Africa Series.

Hayes: We got about five minutes and then I'll switch. So not that we have to stop there, but I'm just saying that's where we're...

Davis: Okay, I started my boxing series because I am a boxing fan, because I used to box. I never boxed professionally, but I loved to box.

Hayes: In high school?

Davis: I boxed when I was growing up. I boxed in the military. I used to box every chance I could get. I loved boxing. If Wilmington had a boxing gym when I was growing up, that's what I would be doing. No doubt about. Now, I loving boxing so I decided to do a series on fighters. And what I wanted to do, I wanted to do a series on great, old fighters, all right, not the current fighters, not contemporary fighters. And that's not because I don't have any respect for them, but it's just something about those early fighters, man. These guys fought for pennies, you know. And the training was hard. They didn't get the kind of money that these modern fighters get. And they fought-- some of them fought twice or three times a month where these modern fighters today, man, you lucky if they fight once a year, you know. So I admire these guys. But the thing that I want to do different-- I started this boxing series, the first one I did, I did in color.

Hayes: Well, is that this one behind you there?

Davis: No, I just did that recently.

Hayes: More traditional and all kinds of color.

Davis: You want me to get it.

Hayes: Yeah, great. All right, Harry's gone and got one. And what's the title of this one, Harry?

Davis: This piece is called Next Bout.

Hayes: Next Bout, Ali Frazier, Ali Versus Frazier.

Davis: No, those are just posters. This is an unknown fighter. He's not a real fighter. I just wanted to capture a boxer in those few moments before he actually steps into the ring.

Hayes: All right, that's great. And you did color?

(overlapping conversation)

Davis: And Halle Berry actually bought the original.

Hayes: Halle Berry? The Halle Berry?

Davis: The Halle Berry.

Hayes: The actress, Halle Berry?

Davis: The actress, Halle Berry.

Hayes: Did you invite her out to your house or just bought the original?

Davis: She came to my studio.

Hayes: Here?

Davis: Not here. This was before I built this house. I took her out to dinner and everything. Anyway, that was my first one. I did it in color. And I like-- as you can tell from my artwork, I like working in color. But then I had this dream, all right. I had this dream of a fighter. But the fighter in my dream-- the piece in my dream was in black and white. And so, I decided, okay, instead of painting my fighters in black and white, I'm going to do them all in gray tones, which is something you might call black and white, but actually it's shades of black and white. So I decided to do them all in gray tones. And the first one I finished, which...

(crew talk)

Davis: The first one I did, I knew there was something missing. I just couldn't figure out what it was. And then I realized what it was. I needed some color in it. So I decided to do the entire piece in gray tones but I went with the red boxing gloves. The red Everlast boxing gloves, all right, because the red not only represents the gloves but it was just blood, all right. And a lot of blood is shed in the boxing ring. And I think that was the key.

Hayes: Oh, they're just striking.

Davis: Well, I think so too.

Hayes: And how many did you do in that series?

Davis: I did 12 all together. And now, I have one, two-- four left. I sold the other eight.

Hayes: And then did you also do prints with that to try to-- or did you do prints on these or not?

Davis: I've done prints, yes. I have prints. As a matter of fact, now, I'm doing _________ of them, yeah.

Hayes: Good. Let's take a break, if that's okay with you.

Davis: Sure.

(tape change)

Hayes: Okay, I'm sorry. We're back on tape number three with Harry Lee Davis, artist, and Sherman Hayes from the University of North Carolina Wilmington, Randall Library, on February 22nd, 2008. And we were talking about the boxer series with the great red gloves. I guess, you know, the thing is if you're not an artist I think we're surprised at the amount of time and deliberation that goes into thinking these kinds of things through. You don't just start painting, right, you do...

Davis: No.

Hayes: You know, what would be-- say your next series, you know, walk me through what would you do as you're starting to say, "Boy, it's time to do another series," what...

Davis: Okay, of course the first thing I'd have to do is decide what kind of series I want to do. And I was thinking about what I would like to do is a series of Black cowboys.

Hayes: Black cowboys, oh great.

Davis: Black cowboys. I've done two so far. The difficulty in doing any kind of series is coming up-- and because, and I should make one thing clear, I work primarily from photographs, okay? Photographs I take myself or photographs somebody else has taken. But even though I'm using a photograph the photograph is kind of like the foundation of a building, all right? Put the foundation on, but you can't look at the foundation and tell what the final-- what the building's going to look like, same thing with me. The photograph is just a building block.

Hayes: Starting point.

Davis: Yeah, a starting point. It gives me an idea.

Hayes: You're not copying the photograph.

Davis: I'm not copying the photograph, no. It gives me the idea. I always change something, maybe the colors. Sometimes I'll use two or three photographs and I'll combine them to be one painting like this piece right here behind me.

Hayes: All right, you're pointing at one here. There's a gentleman out in the field and...

Davis: It's kind of ________.

Hayes: Yeah, that's all right.

Davis: It's actually two different photographs.

Hayes: Okay, good.

Davis: The old man was in one and the background was in another. So anyway, this Black cowboy series the difficult part will be finding the right pictures. It's hard to find good quality black and white photographs with Black cowboys. It's just hard to find. And so that's...

Hayes: And there were lots of Black cowboys. After the civil war a lot of them...

Davis: And again, I did my research before I started, before I decided-- before I did the first one. At least minimum, minimum 25 percent of your cowboys were Black, minimum of 25 percent. Of course if one would keep watching a western you'd never know that, all right? At least when I was growing up I never saw a Black cowboy. As a matter fact the term cowboy itself was a term that originated to describe Black men who herded cows. They were, "Get the cow, boy," you know, that's what it was, cow boy. Most of your cooks on those cattle drives were Black, you know. Many of the outlaws were Black. There were Black marshals, sheriffs, yeah, were Black. When Pat Garrett arrested Billy the Kid he had Black deputies with him. There was a Black, I grew up on him, Cherokee Bill who was so dangerous and people were so afraid of him that one town actually passed an ordinance that when Cherokee Bill came into town nobody was to mess with him, bother with him, he's just crazy. And my first Black cowboy that I painted was a cowboy named Nate Love, and also, aka, also known as Deadwood Dick because he spent a lot of time in a town called Deadwood South Dakota. Nate Love was a part time cowboy, Indian scout, outlaw, and deputy marshal, and bronco buster. Not only that, he was a really cool guy. If you ever see a picture of him you'll see that's a real cool cowboy. So he was my first Black cowboy and I've done one other since then. And I'm looking for some good black and white photographs. But it's not something that, you know, like I said, it's not something easy. And the thing about me, before I start on a painting I think about it. I don't know how other artists work, but before I start on a painting, when I'm in bed, when I'm sleeping, well not when I'm sleeping, actually when I'm in bed I'm thinking, "Okay, I'm going to start on this painting tomorrow morning. What colors am I going to use?" I don't just get up and come in my studio and start pulling out colors. I've already planned what colors. I've already tried to visualize in my head what I want this painting to look like, what colors I want to put in it, all right?

Hayes: Now here you're working mainly in an acrylic on canvas or oil on canvas?

Davis: Oil.

Hayes: Oil on canvas.

Davis: And not-- only oil. That's all I use, oil on canvas. I've tried other mediums, oil works best for me. I like oil.

Hayes: You mentioned earlier the giclée. Tell us a little bit about that process and that decision. I mean, before you were doing prints kind of for the masses, not the masses but, I mean, for wider distribution. What's with the new technology?

Davis: All right. Since I've been painting the art world has come out with many different means of reproducing artists' work, the artists' work. When I first started I started-- I was having my original oil paintings reproduced as limited edition prints, or limited edition lithographs. They're called offset lithographs and they're done on offset printers. The same kind of printer that you would publish magazines or newspapers on, all right, in this case you're using color. All right, and the problem with that is because this was an offset printer it made sense for you and artists to have as many prints done as you possibly could because the more you had done the lesser they cost, the cheaper they were per print. The problem with that is most printers, the minimum number they would do, they would do it at times 100 prints, all right? And of course...

Hayes: And many times they want to do a thousand, right?

Davis: Yeah, and like I said the way they had them priced the more you had done the cheaper they were per print, but the minimum order was 100. So anyway, even if you had a minimum number done, 100, you were stuck with 100 prints that you had to sell, you know, and if you are doing a lot of art shows and meeting a lot of people and having a lot of people see your work you end up with all these prints. And my number was usually-- I usually had at least 500 done, all right? That's why today I have tons and tons of prints now that I'm still trying to move. The giclée, on the other hand, now keep in mind that those early printers, prints were actually done using a stamping photo-- it was almost like a photographic process, but it was more of a stamping process. The image was actually stamped on the paper from the ________.

Hayes: Were you happy with the staying power of that, I mean, because one of the dilemmas I've seen is that light with some of that stuff just...

Davis: Fades.

Hayes: Fades, and bad. I don't know, or maybe you have got a way to get around that, but I just have noticed that's been one of the dilemmas for-- and with your bright colors and stuff, you know, you want that to stay.

Davis: The problem with the early lithographs is exactly what you just said. In time they would fade. The cheaper prints would fade. You'd start seeing noticeable fading in one month, all right?

Hayes: Wow, one month.

Davis: Yeah. As an artist the thing that I had to be very careful of is choosing a printer who used light fast inks and dyes, you know?

Hayes: Okay and there are different ones, because that costs you more money.

Davis: It costs you more money. Or inks and dyes that were ultraviolet resistant, all right? And that's what I try to do. But even then, even the best lithographs would fade over time. It might be six months. It might be a few years. But they would in direct sunlight.

Hayes: In direct sunlight.

Davis: Yeah, they would lose their...

Hayes: How do they do with all the fluorescents and stuff? Does that even affect them a little bit?

Davis: Over time.

Hayes: Over time.

Davis: The bottom line is all art will fade in time. Even original oil paintings under lighting will fade in time. That's why when you go into exclusive museums like our museum here in North Carolina, they use very subdued light.

Hayes: I know, they always use-- it's almost sometimes does a disservice to the art, but they're trying to...

Davis: Yeah, that's what they have to do to preserve it. And then I discovered a process called ilfochrome deluxe printing, and I started having-- in fact some of the prints that you guys purchased from me are ilfochrome deluxe, all right? These prints use a different kind of pigment and it's done on a different type of paper, all right? Instead of having the images actually stamped on the paper the images are actually in the paper itself.

Hayes: Oh, interesting.

Davis: Yeah. So I'm explaining it. And the paper is-- the paper, before anything is on it is totally black so by the time you actually put your image on it, it makes the colors even bolder and stronger, and ilfochrome classic deluxe prints have a life, a fade life expectancy of up to a hundred years which is very phenomenal. Now, the giclée process is something totally different. Giclée is a French word that means to spray or squirt, and it's a computer driven printing process that actually uses very fine jets, and they spray very fine minute jets of ink, dye or pigment on the paper and the computer duplicates the original. Your original is put into the computer on a disk and the duplication is so exact that sometimes it's almost impossible to tell the giclée from the original.

Hayes: Well, sometimes it's better.

Davis: Uh-huh, okay.

Hayes: No. I'll tell you the story that we had a person come in who had-- she had done this drawing in the 1950s. Well you could imagine that the paper had started to get brown and the colors and so forth and so on. We wanted to put it out, but if we put it out in, you know, on a shelf thinking what the light was going to do. So we did the giclée, you know, and it looked better because it, you know, brightened up and so forth and so on. I mean it was still a good picture, but that's what I meant.

Davis: No, no, that's true.

Hayes: I don't mean you would want it to be better, but it's almost, you know, like you say...

Davis: That's true. That's true and, but-- and all that's good. For an artist the really great thing is the fact that I can have as many of these images done as I want or I can just have one and the cost is the same, all right, because they're not turning on some big huge printing press that needs to keep running.

Hayes: And you can put it on different mediums. That's the other thing.

Davis: Different mediums. I have giclées on canvas. My canvas giclées look like an original oil painting.

Hayes: And do they-- are you feeling people are responding to it?

Davis: Oh yeah. The good thing about a giclée is for a lot of people who would love to own an original piece of art, but know they can't afford it they can afford a giclée on canvas that looks like an original.

Hayes: Now what do you do on that to indicate that it's not that. You don't want that person to start faking that it's an original. Do you say-- number it, or?

Davis: I number. All my giclées are limited editions so I number and sign them, all right? And not only that an expert can always tell the difference, okay? On an original oil painting if you touch the surface oil paint will leave-- it's going to leave a rough surface. You're going to feel the surface of an oil painting, just the paint itself. And giclée on canvas, because you're working with pigments or dyes, the surface you won't feel the paint, all right?

Hayes: Okay. That's great.

Davis: Another thing, a great thing about a giclée is I can do the original-- say my primary color in the original is blue, but say you like the original but you'd rather have the primary color as green. They can reproduce my original, the same image, but the primary color would be green.

Hayes: But you'd clear that before they do that right? I mean, in other words it's your choice to...

Davis: Well, yeah, right. Yeah, sure, it's my choice, yeah.

Hayes: Let's just get a few of the other series that you've done. One that I think is interesting is that you haven't run away from religion. I mean, it's part-- you have some images here that are part of the Black culture about Christian religion. Have you had people respond to those? Is that one that has done well, or?

Davis: That's one that has not done that well, but it's something that I wanted to paint for the same reason I wanted to paint my fighters and my people in Africa because just like you said it's a part of my culture. I grew up in the church. I'm still involved in the church. And there are a lot of stories from the Bible that make good subject matter for paintings, all right? And not all my religious pieces are from the Bible. Some of them have just have a kind of a religious context.

Hayes: Well, I mean, the one that I remember is...

Davis: In the Water?

Hayes: In the Water, which is part of that tradition, or the one that's like someone is raising up and being pulled up to heaven, that kind of imagery and so forth which are-- but, you know, sometimes people run away from that. I mean, they act as if religion doesn't matter, but it does matter.

Davis: Yeah, it does matter. Absolutely, it does matter.

Hayes: Now, you've done musicians.

Davis: I've did a blues and jazz series. That's still a work in progress. I still-- I'm still doing some of those pieces, a lot of jazz musicians, blues musicians.

Hayes: What about...

Davis: Oh, and now I'm actually working-- I'm doing my people of the Caribbean. Yeah, I'm doing a Caribbean series.

Hayes: Oh, that's interesting.

Davis: Yeah.

Hayes: Well, how kind of research there? Are you doing more journals and magazines?

Davis: More internet research, yeah. Yeah, a lot of Caribbean scenes, a lot of blue sky and blue water, man, I like painting water, you know, but I like painting blue sky. It probably goes back to my landscape painting days, you know, I still like doing the sky, water and green trees thing.

Hayes: That's great. That's great. And do you think-- it doesn't sound to me like you'll ever run out of a series idea.

Davis: No.

Hayes: And do you have any sense of how long they last for you? Maybe there's no pattern. I mean, you know, when do you start to get bored, or?

Davis: You know what? Sometimes I get bored after I do one painting. Okay, that's enough.

Hayes: That's a very short series.

Davis: Yeah. I only do one and let's move onto something else. And then others I just enjoy painting, you know? Just like I was saying, my sports pieces, the boxing thing, I want to do some more of those. Not necessarily boxing. There's a great picture of Jim Brown, the old Cleveland Browns running back. It's a great picture of him standing on the sidelines with his cape over his shoulders and his football helmet pushed back on his head. It's a black and white photograph. I've seen it, but I can't find it. I'm looking for it now. If I find it I'm going to do a painting of that.

Hayes: That's great. That's great. Now, you talked about an earlier studio and now you're out here in Belville. Is that actually a city of...

Davis: It's actually-- it's not a city. It's actually a town.

Hayes: Oh, okay, I didn't know. I mean I, you know, I know Leland.

Davis: A lot of people have no idea. That's why when I'm traveling when people ask me where I'm from I say Wilmington. If I say Belville they don't have a clue where I am.

Hayes: Well, I know your wife has been a big supporter. How important has that been?

Davis: Oh, very important, very important. Joann and I have been married now it'll be 12 years this year. And I met her at UNCW. I was hanging a show, hanging my show.

Hayes: Is that right?

Davis: Yeah, in the Warwick Center. And I think she was a new professor. As a matter of fact she and several other professors were on a tour, a campus tour and they happened to be coming through the Warwick Center. And I saw her and she saw me and our eyes locked and it was an instant connection. I want her to see this.

Hayes: So she gets to watch this video, right?

Davis: Love at first sight, you know. I said, "Hey, this is going to be the woman I marry," you know?

Hayes: That's great. But I think it makes a difference, I mean, it seems to me that there's a loneliness about being a professional artist, and somebody is necessary to help push the marketing part of it. I mean that-- in many of the interviews I see that kind of tension. You could be painting all the time, right, but you need to do your, what do you say, your exhibits and your shows and your whatever, but if you do too much of that you're not painting. That...

Davis: Sherman you are a very astute gentleman.

Hayes: Well, I've done a lot of interviews and I see that pattern coming.

Davis: What you said about being an artist, and artists are very unique people. And I'm not saying that in any kind of egotistical way or nothing like that, but artists-- an artist's brain is just wired different, all right? I mean, we-- and I met so many other artists and one of the things I found is we tend to be very similar in a lot of ways. Artists tend to be-- even thought we like people, don't get me wrong, an artist can be very happy just being by himself, he really can. For a true artist-- a true artist is supposed to create, just paint. I mean, you know, we-- you can put us in a room by ourselves with our music and our art and we're perfectly happy. So, you know, we're just wired like that. But, and as far as the marketing side, because Joann's a full time teacher at UNCW, she doesn't get too much involved in that. But where she comes in at a lot of things I do might involve-- oh, for instance, when I have to-- a lot of things I have to do I have to put together-- I have to write things. A lot of things deal with writing and putting together packages of information. That's where she comes in handy, all right?

Hayes: Well, I was thinking as much, not just for her, but any of them where that person is saying, "So, let me help you," in other words help push the idea that you have to have that other side. Not that they necessarily do it, but they're like-- and it isn't they're doing that because they want the money it's just that they-- usually it takes an outsider to see that you need to push.

Davis: Right. Right. Right. True.

Hayes: And I know she always has ideas about it so I was...

Davis: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. As a matter of fact, and not only that, when I finish a piece the first thing I do is tell Joann, "Go in and look. Go in and check out my painting. Tell me what you think."

Hayes: But it seems to me that you, either out of necessity or by nature, were a pretty good entrepreneur. I mean, just the idea of New York was a very, very good one, and finding the Black circuit. I mean, there's many an artist that can paint, but doesn't-- isn't willing to go the other way, right? Is that...

Davis: Absolutely right.

Hayes: Now you didn't really ever do the gallery approach then, or do you do that now at all?

Davis: Right now I'm with a gallery here in Leland, a new gallery called Montage.

Hayes: Oh, that's right. I've heard of that.

Davis: Out on Highway 17. And in my career I've probably been involved with maybe four galleries. But the gallery route has never really been something that I was really driven to do. I've never had much success with galleries. I've always done better selling my art myself. And one gallery that I had a lot of success with as far as selling my artwork we had a problem with money, my money.

Hayes: Boy, have I heard this story before. You don't have to mention names, but we get this from many, many artists.

Davis: Yeah, sold a painting and I really had to-- I really had to take this guy to the wall to get my money for my painting, yeah. Yeah, and now he's upset with me like I was wrong, you know? That's that funny thing. Yeah, he treated me like I was wrong. So, you know, I'm perfectly content to sell, but I would love to make a connection with, say, a major gallery in one of the major cities, New York, Chicago, LA someplace like that.

Hayes: Yeah, because then you could get people who come in who aren't shocked by the prices.

Davis: That's right.

Hayes: Because your originals are-- they're large to begin with and what do they sell for today? I mean, an original is not inexpensive.

Davis: My originals start at $500 and go up to $2,500.

Hayes: Yeah, and they take a lot of time and a lot of energy.

Davis: A lot of time, a lot of sweat and tears.

Hayes: Yeah, and creativity. But at least you've kept your material accessible to people with a print. There are some, particularly oil painters, who just never go that route. And I don't know how they do it, you know, that they can only sell...

Davis: Yeah, you know, every artist is different. Every artist is different. Every artist takes a different approach to selling and marketing his work. Some artists could care less about selling art, you know? I don't get that, but there are artists who care less about selling their work, but I don't happen to be one of them. So a large part of my time is spent trying to dream up new ways to sell my art, and to give you an example. There's a website on the internet called Contact Any Celebrity, all right? And you get on this website by paying a fee, and I think the fee is like $30 dollars a month or something like that. So I joined this website. And this website gives you the name, address of any celebrity you can think of be it entertainment, politics, sports, whatever. And so what I'm in the process of doing now is putting together packages for some of these celebrities, and I'm going to be mailing out these packages and see what happens. Nothing may happen, but it only takes one nibble. That's all I need is just one bite, you know?

Hayes: Well, I think the problem is how do you get your work in front of someone?

Davis: That's always a problem.

Hayes: That's always the problem. I mean, you know, first of all the work has to be good, right? I mean, that's a given. I mean, just-- but it could be the best in the world. How do you...

Davis: If nobody sees it-- if you try to sell it and nobody sees it you can't sell it.

Hayes: And let's face it, Wilmington is kind of at the end of the world as far as the art community goes, right? I mean, you mentioned major cities. How much difference does that make to be at those places?

Davis: I'll tell you what I told a friend of mine. If I lived in New York City right now there's no doubt in my mind, no doubt in my mind that I could probably make at least $2,500 dollars a week with my art, no doubt, you know, but not here.

Hayes: Of course it might cost you $3,000 a week to live, but-- I'm just kidding.

Davis: Three thousand a month to live. Now I can handle that.

Hayes: You'd still be ahead. You'd still be ahead, right?

Davis: Yeah, I'd still be ahead man, yeah. So anyhow...

Hayes: But then there's also more artists there, so that's the other dilemma, right? That's the downside. But also I think, you know, since you do appeal to an African American sensibility, is that a fair way, or subject matter, you need to get where there's people, African Americans who have money, who enjoy art and want this product, right?

Davis: Again, like I said, you hit the nail right on the head. That's the key. And I'll tell anybody this and, again, this is not ego talking this is what I know from experience. If you put me and my art in a room full of successful well to do professional Black people I'll sell every time. It hasn't failed yet. As a matter of fact, if you put me and my art in a roomful of successful, well-off, educated White people, I will sell, it happens. The problem with me, just like any other artist, is getting those opportunities.

Hayes: Right, and in the right setting and the right mood. I mean, not everybody-- in certain seasons of the year, right, and that kind of...

Davis: Yeah, art is a very unique business man. And one thing I can tell you, and when the economy is bad nobody's thinking about buying art when the economy is bad, right? You think about everything else.

Hayes: That's right. Yeah. So from a-- next series will end with-- what are thinking in the next, you know, we're looking at Harry Davis what can we look forward to? You said some more boxing, or maybe some other sports.

Davis: You know I think I just, well...

Hayes: Cowboys?

Davis: I just finished this piece here. Right now I have no idea what my next piece will be, but I think it will probably be another Caribbean piece. I'm really enjoying painting those. I'm going to show you one I just finished up.

Hayes: Good. Have you been-- are you going there too.

Davis: Hey, that could be a future thing too.

Hayes: Yeah, that'd make a difference?

Davis: Yeah.

Hayes: Well listen, Harry, thank you so much for talking to us.

Davis: I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it.

Hayes: I really did.

Davis: Thank you Sherman.

UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database
Found in:
Randall Library | UNCW Archives and Special Collections | Online Database | Contact Us | Admin Login
Powered by Archon Version 3.21 rev-1
Copyright ©2012 The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign