Gratitude Celebration 20: Bold New World

Broadening my views of life and people and enticing me to love my body and outwardly express myself were the gifts offered by my Living Arts teachers. I’m celebrating my 60th birthday with 60 days of gratitude for people who made a difference in my life. Today’s recipients are three men who had very different views of life than my Catholic School teachers.

Bing Davis was probably the most radical person I had ever encountered. His art and conversation opened up a whole new world of self expression and raw opinion. He was the first African American teacher I had, and a very outspoken one at that. My first encounter with him was at an introduction to The Living Arts Center that I attended with John Spinnato and both of our moms.

Mr. Davis was showing pictures of junk yards and talking about their abundant potential as resources for art. Other slides showed sculptures made from scrap metal and old gears and tires and such. He was so excited and passionate about the freedom of thought and expression that students could experience in this new program supported by the public schools. We had ventured into the auditorium of Van Cleve School, the neighborhood public school. I had not been there since my kindergarten days with Mrs. Wilson. The hallowed halls of Corpus Christi elementary and Julienne high Catholic Schools had been my exclusive seat of education until then. Listening to Bing Davis astounded me with a peak into a vast world of unfettered communication that actually scared me with its boldness.  John signed up right away for acting classes. It took me two more years and friendship with Kathy Brinkman, who thrived at Living Arts, to enter the refurbished warehouse way over on the east side of town and let my own creativity and voice sneak out.

My first class with Mr. Davis, tall, thin – and Black, was Painting. Under his tutelage, I painted with acrylics and watercolor in ways of movement that I had not experienced before. Looking back, I am grateful to him for patiently coaxing out of me the freedom to let out the artistic voice that was bound up tight inside. He gave me permission, and technical skills, to put into color and form the emotions that had been held inside. My favorite painting experience was the day we sat outside on a floodwall overlooking the city with big sheets of watercolor paper and paint. What I saw and painted was a huge tree leafed out in a thousand dabs of shades of green dominating the grey blocks of buildings in the background. The painting still hangs in my mother’s bedroom and confirms my true spirit of noticing Nature’s beauty wherever I am, that was called forth by Bing Davis.

He also gave me a chance to  value my sewing skills. He admired a jacket I had fashioned from a couple of deer hides my mom had and he asked me to sew him a jacket.  I found a pattern of a long style with a ‘Neru’ collar. The fabric was a bold African pattern in brown, orange and blue. It was a new experience to sew for someone besides myself, and I felt really proud to see him wearing it and to get paid for sewing clothes!  I’m pretty sure now that Bing Davis knew that jacket meant a lot more to ME than it ever did for HIM. What a wise and compassionate educator he was!

Another teacher at Living Arts was Clarence Walls who taught writing. Although I didn’t take any of his classes, I would go along with Kathy to chat with Mr. Walls. Mostly, we would just joke and talk about things going on in the world, or about getting along with other people.  I’m pretty sure Mr. Walls didn’t realize he was shaking the very foundations of my communication style when he casually said in the middle of one of our lighthearted group conversations, “Regina, you are so cynical!” I was stunned, because I had usually been lurking in the background, letting Dan, Kathy and her sister, Patty, lead the conversations while I listened. But, Mr. Walls was speaking right to me personally, and calling me something I didn’t even know the meaning of!  I had to consult a dictionary when I got home to learn that someone I looked up to observed me as someone who saw only the bad side of things and kept myself separate in an arrogant way.  For a while after that I was very careful about what I said and noticed that I DID have this edge to my comments. What really struck me, though, is that I also noticed that what I SAID wasn’t really what I was THINKING!  I was thinking that I wanted to belong in the group and I wanted to be genuine and friendly and see the best in others! I started to choose different words, and to this day I still work on speaking words that build others up and not tear them down. I’m grateful to Mr. Walls for that epiphany!

“Bodies are beautiful in their expression, and there’s no need to cover up the shape of your body,” is the invitation that Mr. Chi, my dance teacher, offered. I didn’t accept his invitation, though, and wore a loose t-shirt over my leotard thoughout the year of free form dance lessons with him.  In his classes I moved my whole body, speaking out the feelings that were being coaxed out of me in my Living Arts experience. My friend, Kathy Harmon, had enticed me into the dance classes that were her favorite form of expression.  Mr. Chi, a small-bodied man whose best communication was through movement rather than speech had me creating movements large and small, stretching, bending, leaping, rolling. By the time I had worked with him several months I was comfortable enough with my body to perform in an afternoon program to introduce the public to Living Arts. Thanks to Mr. Chi, I am free to dance!

My two years at The Living Arts Center, a bold, experimental program of the Dayton City Public Schools, were magical for me! I have to thank my mom for letting me go there. It was quite an adventure for me to take the bus across town, having to transfer routes downtown, even at night. What that program did for me was open my eyes to myself and to a world of diversity and artistic expression with all parts of my body! My mom saw in me the inner desire and talent for self-expression and Living Arts was designed to foster that.  Bing Davis’ vision of going to the ‘junk yard’ where unrealized and cast aside beauty could be fashioned into bold, authentic, and passionate communication was most certainly fulfilled in me! I honor and celebrate his courageous vision and his contribution to my life!

Bing Davis is still opening the door to creative expression!


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