Willis “Bing” Davis was born in 1937 in Greer, South Carolina. He grew up in an African-American neighborhood in the inner city of Dayton, Ohio. A first generation college student, he enrolled at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana in 1955. While at DePauw, he was point guard and number two guard on the Tiger men’s basketball team, high jumped for the track team, and was eventually inducted into the University’s Athletic Hall of Fame.

He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Art Education in 1959. Bing continued his education, attending the School of Dayton Art Institute, earning a  master’s  degree at Miami University in Ohio, and studying ceramics under Dick Hay at Indiana State University in Terre Haute, Indiana. In 1997, he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from DePauw University.


Bing started his career as an educator in the Dayton Public School System in 1969. He began teaching at the collegiate level at Wright State University. He worked as Assistant Professor of Art and Coordinator of Black Studies at DePauw  University  from 1971-76. At the time, he was the first and only full-time black faculty member.

He later taught at Miami and Wright State Universities. He retired in 1998 to open the Davis Art Studio and EbonNia  Gallery  in the inner city of  Dayton, Ohio.  He continues to produce art and work with students.

Art department faculty at DePauw, 1971. Richard Peeler Is third from left.

**All three images above are from the DePauw University Archives.


Bing Davis’ work has been exhibited and recognized globally. In addition to the Haan Collection, his work can be found in the private collections of Oprah Winfrey, the late President Nelson R. Mandela, President and Mrs. George H. W. Bush, Harry Belafonte, the late John Glenn, and Mike Tyson.

Bing Davis is a versatile artist who utilizes many different media. His works include paintings, drawings, sculptures, pottery, photographs, and mixed media assemblages. As an artist, he places greater emphasis on the impact of the final visual image rather than the technical skill used to produce it. In many of his works, he incorporates found objects by using them in new ways.

Bing Davis combines his love of art, his African heritage, and his urban upbringing to create works that speak to people of every race and background.

“I began to look at Native American art, the Indian art and canon, and began to read about the Mayan and the Incan, and the Australian Aboriginal, and then African art. And what I found changed my life.”

-Bing Davis (Quote taken from a gallery talk, Dec 2016)

African Inspirations

One of the ways Bing Davis incorporates his African heritage into his work is by utilizing the patterns and colors of African textiles and objects such as the Kente and Kuba cloths and the Nigerian calabash.

Kente cloth is made in Ghana by the people of the Asante and Ewe ethnic groups. It is woven on looms in four-inch strips that are sewn together. Both Asante and Ewe kente incorporate geometric patterns and bright colors. Ewe kente often includes pictorial symbols. It is these patterns and colors that give different meanings to designs.

Kuba cloth is made by the Kuba people from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Kuba people use these textiles for ceremonies, rituals, and funeral celebrations. Kuba cloth is incredibly detailed in its embroidery and as such, is worn mostly by high-ranking members of society. It takes one woman about a month of regular work to create a small square of Kuba embroidery. There are over 200 named patterns, each with their own meaning. Each design combines and elaborates on these known patterns. Many artists, including Picasso, Matisse, and Bing Davis, have drawn inspiration from the abstract patterns found on Kuba cloth.

Colors are especially important in African art, and most African art includes bright, vibrant colors as a means of expression. These colors reflect the vividness and intensity of colors in the African environment, which is close to the Equator.

Information provided above from: The African Conservancy website, WebExhibits.org, and Bing Davis

“When I look at the many life-sustaining rituals and ceremonies in which art was used in traditional African societies, I see many concepts and ideas that are valid today and worthy of preservation.”

-Bing Davis (Quote taken from IMA exhibition book)


In American culture, masks are often associated with disguise and concealment. They can be used to hide one’s true identity.  But in African culture, masks have a very different meaning. In many African societies, masks are used in community rituals or ceremonies. They represent a spiritual force, which could be an ancestor, an animal, a deity, a moral value, etc. During the ceremonies, the masks help bring the spiritual forces to life. The design, size, and shape of African masks can vary greatly depending on the type of ceremony for which they are used and what spiritual forces they represent. They are made from many different materials, including leather, metal, fabrics, and different types of wood.

Information provided above from: The African Conservancy website, WebExhibits.org, and Bing Davis

Dayton Skyscrapers

Taken from the Dayton City Newspaper, Dec 13-19, 2016

Dayton is a trove of unsung heroes, and Willis Bing Davis is resurrecting these lesser known figures from the past and highlighting those that walk among us. Davis and other local African American artists created the Dayton Skyscrapers Project. Dayton Skyscrapers is a metaphor for giants who stand tall in our hearts and memories for their achievements and their “giving back”. They are towering, renowned innovators inspiring their community to achieve similar heights.

According to Davis, “By identifying African American high achievers, this broadens the pool of potential role models for urban youth. Dayton artists are creating works of art celebrating these 100 Dayton Skyscrapers, and all are standing tall, beckoning African American youths to rise and achieve.

Willis Bing Davis was chosen as one of the inaugural Dayton Skyscrapers when the project was started 10 years ago.

“What I found [was] that art was a primary vehicle which people always had expressed those things of value to them, and those things of beauty.”

-Bing Davis (Quote taken from a gallery talk in December 2016)

Two artists with works shown throughout the Museum collection had close ties to Bing Davis. Dick Hay was his instructor at Indiana State and Richard Peeler was his instructor, and later a fellow faculty member at DePauw.