Asberry Davis began making “things,” as he called them, in the early 1970s, on land in the Congaree Swamp in South Carolina.
In the late 1960s, a widow named Ella Riley had moved onto the land near Davis, living in a one-room construction he built for her. After her death, in 1973, Davis stacked all of her possessions into a pseudo-mausoleum memorial, which he planted with flowers and tended to for the rest of his life. This act of remembrance stirred a creativity in the artist, leading him to a decades-long artistic practice.
Davis made costumes comprising elaborately wrapped and twisted bracelets and belts. Many of his sculptural pieces were used for a game of his own invention that involved a combination of tug-of-war and jousting. Over time, his homestead became an amalgamation of scattered constructions, ad-hoc modes of transportation, old farm equipment, and forms hung from trees. He lived there until his death in 1999.
In 2022, the Arts Center acquired four works by Davis as part of a larger gift from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation. They are believed to be the only surviving pieces from his now-destroyed site and will be on view at the Art Preserve with a selection of documentary photographs.
Image: Asberry Davis, group of untitled work, c. 1998. Souls Grown Deep Foundation Collection (20491), Southern Folklife Collection at Wilson Special Collections Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Photo: William Arnett.