Lena Bulluck Davis

Lena Bulluck Davis: A Digital Exhibition

A Note from the Curator

With this digital exhibition, I hope to reveal to our viewers Lena Bulluck Davis’s life as a wife/sister/mother/grandmother, as the painter she is recognized for, and uncover her talent as a writer.

The Imperial Centre’s Lena Bullock Davis Collection

Known as the Grandmother Moses of this region, Lena Bulluck Davis’s work is referred to as “primitive.” I think one of the main reasons for this surreal, primitive style is rooted in the fact that Davis painted from memory. Also, her severe arthritis made it extremely painful to hold a brush. Memories of her from Davis’s daughter and grandchildren reference her balancing her paintbrush on her arthritic hand. Nothing, and I mean nothing, deterred Lena Bulluck Davis from doing exactly what she wanted.

Lena Bulluck Davis (Digitized by Garry Hodges)

“Sunday Picnic at Whitakers Mill (All Nature Says ‘Tis Spring)” circa 1951. Oil on board, 17 x 23 inches.
(Maria V. Howard Permanent Art Collection) 1967.01.01

Davis was a multi-talented, determined, clever woman who was ahead of her time. Not only is she a regional legend as a painter, but she was also a writer. I am excited to share poetry and letters that Davis wrote. One poem, titled “Alone,” very plainly discusses an opposing pull Davis experienced as a wife/mother and a brilliantly creative mind. – Alicyn Wiedrich, Curator

About Lena Bulluck Davis

Lena Bulluck Davis was born in 1882, the youngest of three daughters, in Edgecome county to Thomas Ruffin Bulluck and Florence Carney Bulluck. Part of her youth was spent at her grandparent’s property, which is often the setting of her paintings. Between 1901 and 1905 she was a milliner’s helper and was quite talented at sewing, embroidery, and quilting. In 1905, Lena married Arthur St. Clair Davis and they had three daughters. The couple settled in Rocky Mount, NC in 1906, where they were active participants in the community. In fact, Arthur dressed up for holidays as Uncle Sam, earning him the nick-name year-round.

Lena Bulluck Davis circa 1883-1884 (Contributed by Lynne Foster)

Arthur St. Clair Davis and Lena Bulluck Davis (Contributed by Lynne Foster)

In 1935, Davis sought instruction from the Rocky Mount YMCA in painting, a free program through the Works Progress Administration (WPA). However, Davis was stricken with severe arthritis in 1941, which made her bedridden for about two years. During this time, she wrote poetry, letters, and her life story from bed.

Lena Bulluck Davis (Digitized by Garry Hodges)

Lena Bulluck Davis at one-woman show in 1951 (Digitized b Garry Hodges)

Famously, Davis would not let arthritis slow her down. She invented a wheelchair from a regular kitchen chair and that’s how she got around the house. By 1946, Davis was enthusiastically painting again and was first recognized as a unique talent by 1949. Her daughter, Betsy Davis Foster, recalled in the retrospective of her mother’s 2002 exhibition that, Lena Bulluck Davis “preferred using her old chair that had arms to hold a board that would then hold her canvas … all of her supplies were kept in the seat of the chair.”

Lena Bulluck Davis continued painting until she passed away in 1967.

Digital Galleries

Lena and Family

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Lena Bulluck Davis as Painter

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Lena Bulluck Davis as Writer

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Thank You

The Imperial Centre’s Art Galleries would like to thank Lynne Foster and Carle Foster for their continued trust in us to maintain their grandmother’s works. Being able to share the collection digitally in this way has been an honor and I hope this makes her work and her story more accessible to the masses. Also, thank you to Lynne Foster for her additional resources and photographs.

I’d also like to thank Garry Hodges for digitizing the slides and negatives that the Imperial Centre Art Galleries already had in their position.

Thank you to Travis Joyner for his assistance in the creation of this digital exhibition. And also thank you to Liz Lord, who is my partner in crime during this different and sometimes challenging digital year.

References

Lynne St. Clair Foster, Carle Foster
Betsy Davis Foster
“Lena Bulluck Davis: Retrospective” produced by Jerry Jackson of the city of Rocky Mount’s Arts Center.
(Articles by Jerry Jackson and Biruta Erdmann)

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