Thursday, December 1 2022

Nov. 12 — Driven by a love of nature, watercolor artist and trade resident Walt Davis’ journey to becoming a nationally recognized artist wasn’t exactly conventional.

With a bachelor’s degree in zoology and a minor in geography, as well as a master’s degree in wildlife science, Davis worked for nearly 30 years as a curator at the Dallas Museum of Natural History, where he began collaborating with muralists creating dioramas for the museum.

“I was a curator of vertebrate collections, so I would install stuffed (taxidermed) birds and other specimens in exhibits, and muralists would paint the backgrounds,” Davis said. “Working with them, I got into watercolors and learned to paint.”

As his skills grew in painting in both watercolor and acrylic, Davis found he enjoyed the somewhat unpredictable nature of the medium.

“I believe that pigments dissolved in water and applied to paper produce brighter color than any other medium,” Davis said. “Watercolor and acrylic are mercurial and, although sometimes difficult, are always full of surprises, which is why I constantly weigh the importance of original intention against unexpected opportunities.

“For me, watercolor and acrylic painting is a series of negotiations with the medium often involving painful decisions, compromises and sacrifices,” Davis said. “The ever-present risk of failure gives enthusiasm to the process and makes success particularly enjoyable.”

Davis has now been painting watercolors for over 50 years, and for much of this period of perfecting his art he had little success getting his work exhibited in national exhibitions. That was until he found a unique subject that helped him stand out from other artists: insects.

“For several years I didn’t have a chance to enter anything into the American Watercolor Society exhibit, but one day I found a dead katydid, looked at it under a microscope, and I decided to paint a close-up of it and make it really colorful,” Davis said. “This painting ended up winning an award at the American Watercolor Society’s 2013 competition in New York and was featured in the society’s traveling exhibition that year.”

Since then, Davis has submitted paintings (many of which depict grasshoppers, praying mantises, wasps, and beetles) and shown them in several exhibitions with the American Watercolor Society, Southwestern Watercolor Society, Texas Watercolor Society, Richardson Civic Art Society, Greenville Art. League and Western Federation of Watercolor Societies. He was also named an emblematic member of several of these societies.

In addition to submitting work for exhibitions, Davis served as artist-in-residence for three national parks in 2019. During his residency, he painted landscapes of the Guadalupe Mountains, Capitol Reef, and Padre Island National Seashore.

Davis’ love of nature also led him and his wife, Isabel, to co-write a book, ‘Exploring the Edges of Texas’, an account of their 4,000 mile journey around the perimeter of Texas. .

“The book is made up of pencil sketches that I made on several sites, and they are combined with testimonials from people who saw them 90, 100, 120 years ago, and saw how their descriptions match or differ from how they appear today,” Davis says. “I also enjoyed looking at old photographs and sketches of these places and positioning myself where I saw exactly what was in the photo.

“It was an incredible feeling to stand in the exact places where the people who took these photos and drew these sketches stood all those years ago,” he added.

Davis also wrote another book, called “Building an Ark for Texas: The Evolution of the Natural History Museum”, which is a kind of history/memoir about the Dallas Natural History Museum, telling how teams of scientists, taxidermists, explorers, artists and teachers worked together to fulfill the museum’s mission to educate and inspire.

Currently, Davis has some of his paintings on display and for sale at At the Top Art Gallery inside the Uptown Forum in downtown Greenville.

Many paintings in the Greenville Gallery depict historic buildings, including some in the Hunt and Hopkins County area, such as a farmhouse in Wolfe City and the old post office in Sulfur Springs. At the Top also exhibits some of his landscapes, including a long panoramic painting of Baumans Pond in Dothan, Alabama.

Those wishing to learn more about Davis’ work or arrange to attend one of his workshops can do so by visiting his website www.waltdavisart.com.

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