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Large private collection of African American art comes to Cincinnati's Taft Museum

Michael Ellison, Mickey Dees, 1987, woodcut. Photo by Reis Birdwhistell, © Michael Ellison
Reis Birdwhistell, provided by Taft Museum
Michael Ellison, Mickey Dees, 1987, woodcut. Photo by Reis Birdwhistell, © Michael Ellison

Kerry and Betty Davis worked everyday kinds of jobs before retiring — he was a postal worker; she was a TV news producer. But even on middle class salaries, they've collected more than 300 works from world-renowned Black artists over the last 35 years.

Starting Saturday, 67 of those paintings, photographs and other works will be on display at the Taft Museum. Curator Tamara Muente says it's vital the public be able to see the collection.

"When they would invite their own friends and family into their home to enjoy the work they collected, their friends remarked that they rarely visited museums because they couldn't see themselves there," Muente says about the couple. "I think that's an important reason why we bring shows like this to the Taft."

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The collection has a broad range of styles, mediums, eras and perspectives — from the striking 1943 Gordon Parks photograph of two Black women working as welders to Amalia Amaki's colorful 2021 mixed media piece JL:The Ring. Other famous names in the show include Romare Bearden, Michael Ellison and many others. The works all have one thing in common: they resonated with some aspect of Kerry and Betty Davis' experience as Black Americans.

"Every work in the show really has a personal connection to them," Muente says. "They're friends with many of the artists in the show. Many of the works evoke memories for them, or experiences they've had in their own lives."

The show, Memories and Inspiration: The Kerry and C. Betty Davis Collection of African American Art, will be up through May 14.

Nick has reported from a nuclear waste facility in the deserts of New Mexico, the White House press pool, a canoe on the Mill Creek, and even his desk one time.