David E. Davis, Sculptor, 1920–2002
1980 CLEVELAND ARTS PRIZE FOR VISUAL ARTS
Making more with less was the driving idea behind the work of David E. Davis. In the 1970s, using a deliberately
restricted visual vocabulary of triangles, circles and rectangles—which
he subdivided, combined and juxtaposed in a system he called the
Harmonic Grid—he created pieces that ranged from the monumental to the
dynamic. Indeed, the fluid rhythms achieved in many of his pieces
evoked comparisons with music.
artist’s deep respect for orderly thought and critical analysis can be
traced to his Rumanian childhood as the son of a noted Talmudic
scholar. For Davis, discipline and a logical structure were always
essential to his art.
1934, with the shadow of Naziism spreading across Europe, his family
relocated to Cleveland. There David won a full scholarship to the
Cleveland School (now Cleveland Institute) of Art just as war was
breaking out in Europe, only to have his studies interrupted by four
years in the U.S. Armed Forces. After the war he attended the École des
Beaux Arts in Paris and the Cleveland Institute and went on to earn a
master of fine arts from Western Reserve University in Cleveland.
it was not until 1967—after stints as vice president for
Cleveland-based American Greetings Corporation’s Creative Department
and vice president of Electro General Plastics—that Davis set up a
metal-working studio in a former gasoline station so he could devote
himself to sculpture full time. Over the next three decades, his work
would be featured in more than 19 solo and numerous group exhibitions
in venues ranging from the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Butler
Institute of American Art to galleries and museums in Florida, New
York, Chicago and Bucharest, Rumania.
executed a number of major public commissions in Ohio and Florida, and
his work is represented in many museum collections including those of
the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, the John and Mable Ringling Museum of
Art, the Cleveland Museum of Art, as well as in significant private and
preferred to work in a series, defining a general theme around which
visual ideas were explored. The aesthetic qualities of a work—form and
color—along with the material itself (typically cast bronze or
fabricated metal elements carefully welded, polished and painted) were
more interesting to him than content. Most comfortable working in an
abstract idiom, he sought to create timeless visual symbols from a
specific vocabulary of forms ranging from geometric to organic, often
combining the two. “My overall aim,” he said, “is one of harmony, peace
During the 1970s,
Davis pursued his Harmonic Grid Series and its almost limitless
possibilities. After winning the Cleveland Arts Prize in 1980, he spent
the next two decades exploring the tetrahedron, arch and spiral. As the
geometric edge of his early work softened in the Arch Series, he
shifted from constructed pieces to carved pieces, and from metals to
wood and stone.
Davis also had a deep commitment
both to the advancement of his chosen art form and to the preservation
of the region’s distinctive cultural heritage. In 1990 he and his wife,
Bernice Saperstein Davis, co-founded the Sculpture Center, a resource
and exhibition space, to nurture promising area sculptors, and, in
1997, the Artists Archives of the Western Reserve.
Davis Davis died in November 2002. He was 82.
For more about the artist, or to see other examples of his work, visit:
The Sculpture Center
Artist Archives of the Western Reserve