Carson Davenport: Native Son
Inspired by a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1922, Danville native Carson Sutherlin Davenport began his art education in 1929 under the instruction of Clara Lee Cousins at Stratford College. The next year he received a fellowship to the Corcoran School in Washington, D.C., followed by a year at the New York School of Fine and Applied Art. He continued his education at the Grand Central School of Art in New York, the Parsons School of Art and Design, the John Ringling School in Sarasota, Florida, and the Eastport Summer Art Colony in Maine under the tutelage of George Pearse Ennis. Davenport was one of five artists selected to attend the 1938 opening session of the Research Studio in Maitland, Florida.
Davenport’s emergence as an artist of national recognition coincided with the Great Depression of the 1930s. His participation in the Public Works Art Project (1933-34), a part of the National Recovery Act, attracted the attention of Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1934, she chose his painting of farm women from the Blue Ridge Mountains entitled Pioneer Women to hang in the White House. In 1936, the United States Treasury Section of Fine Arts commissioned him to illustrate the industries of Virginia in watercolor and etchings. In 1937, Davenport was appointed director of the WPA Art School and Gallery at Big Stone Gap, Virginia. In 1938 and 1939, Davenport executed three murals for the United States Treasury Department’s visual arts project, two in Greensboro, Georgia, and one in the post office in Chatham, Virginia. The city of Danville was offered, but rejected, two of his mural designs for the Danville Federal Courthouse.
After spending several years in New York as a freelance designer and as a designer for a large commercial studio, Davenport returned to Danville to open a private studio and to chair the Averett College Art Department from 1943 until 1945 and from 1946 until his retirement in 1969. In 1959, he opened a summer art school at Chincoteague Island off the Eastern Shore of Virginia. This setting inspired many of his works depicting marine landscapes and the wild ponies for which the island is known. He died on September 28, 1972.
Much of Davenport’s work belied his reportedly reticent and unassuming personality. Some works were boldly impressionistic. Other pieces, such as his etchings, were delicate and subtle. His artistic style ranged from realism to impressionism. Davenport himself best described his unique style: “My ideal and my goal is to be a fine colorist. I am trying to simulate the brilliance of the color of mosaic, as Roualt was influenced by the brilliance of the colors of stained glass.” He was equally adept at working in oils, watercolor, and printmaking.
His works have been exhibited throughout the country, including the Virginia Museum of Art, the Chicago Art Institute, the Annual National Exhibitions of American Art in New York, the International Water Color Exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, and the New York World’s Fair Exhibitions in Flushing, New York, in 1939.
Davenport is represented in numerous private and public collections throughout the country, including the Rosenwald Collection of the National Gallery of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Collection, the Virginia Museum and the Valentine Museum in Richmond.
This exhibition spans the almost fifty-year career of Carson Davenport and includes works from the Averett University Collection and the Danville Museum’s Davenport Collection, as well as from the following private collectors: Lamar Barr, Michael and Patsi Compton, the family of Mr. & Mrs. E.H. Furgurson, Sue B. Glidewell and Mary-Whitt F. Jones, Jay and Bernadine Hayes, Robert and Sandra Marsh, and Doris Pritchett.
“I am not a public speaker. I just prefer to come quietly and leave my work for people to see, and hope they enjoy them.”