Lynn Sylvester

E.H. Sorrells-Adewale, Santa Fe, Axis Mundi meets Chaco CanyonIn 2004, artist and activist Alonzo Davis established the Alonzo Davis Fellowship Endowment at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA) to give African American and Latino visual artists, composers and writers time and space to work uninterrupted in a quiet studio the Blue Ridge Mountains.  The artist’s residency includes a private studio, private bedroom and three meals a day.

Pinkney Herbert, Brooklyn, NY & Memphis, TN, Mt San AngeloA VCCA fellow himself, Davis says his initial response to being invited to VCCA was “no” because he  already had a good studio.   When he was approached by artist Pinkney Herbert of Memphis, TN to take advantage of the fellowship that was supported by a NEA grant to encourage participation by African American artists in VCCA residencies, he did apply and discovered the benefits of working at a retreat center.  “Wow, what a great experience to have a studio in an idyllic location with no interruptions or other daily distractions,” he recalls.  So he began an effort to endow an ongoing residency at the center for other American artists of African or Latino descent. 

Sheila Crider, Washington, DC., UntitledNow, with the National Yard Sale project, Davis is making the final push to fully fund the endowment.  Over 60 artists from across the nation have contributed an original work of art starting with a simple, wooden yard stick to the project.  In supporting another artist's vision by creating and donating inspired works of art of their own, these artists generously showed their appreciation of Davis’ vision in a way that will benefit the VCCA fellowship and the art lovers at large who will acquire the works. 

Maritza Davila, Memphis, TN, Measurable VisionsMaking inspired works of art can be difficult and time-consuming but the participating artists were eager to meet the challenge. “When asked to do something for a cause or a benefit, I believe in challenging myself to do the very best work,” says Yardstick contributing artist Maritza Davila.

"Alonzo has been so generous and giving over the years that it was a honor for me to participate,” says  artist, E.H. Sorrells-Adewale of Santa Fe, Mexico.  “Giving is a natural part of of Alonzo's aura and personality saying yes to him was a no brainer."

Nehemiah Dixon III, Beltsville, MD., UntitledArtist Michael B. Platt of Washington, DC, “participated because of Alonzo, but later came to appreciate that the concept of starting with a yard stick would challenge me artistically.  When I got my yard sticks, I kept looking at them trying to figure out what to do with them, I really had to stretch.”   

Nehemiah Dixon III, Beltsville, MD, says it felt good to contribute to this project. "I know what I know because artists have supported me technically and spiritually.  For me giving to other artists makes it a win-win.”

Fran Lee Warren, Oakland, CA, UntitledAlonzo Davis’ conception of the National Yard Sale stems from four decades of work as an artist and arts activist.   “My mind saw so many connections between fully funding the Alonzo Davis Fellowship Endowment and a simple wooden yard stick,” Davis says.  “A yard of art would serve as a measure of involvement.”

According to Larry Frazier, a Washington, DC lawyer, art collector and art patron, “the breadth and quality of the work is outstanding.”  When Frazier heard about the project and saw the works of art created from simple wooden yard sticks, he “couldn’t wait to get on board.  It was a small price to pay to be a part of this.”Leslee Stradford, Black Wall Street, 1921 (Inch by Inch)

Persons not able to attend to the live sale on November 16  at Blue Door Studios, 3704 Otis Street, Mt. Rainer, MD can participate via the project webpage at  These contributors will be contacted by project volunteers and given instructions on how to select their pieces from the more than 60 pieces offered.  A portion of the contributions will be tax deductible. 

Measure of the Man

Alonzo Davis bamboo assemblageThe yardstick concept emanated seamlessly from Alonzo Davis’ work with a similar form: bamboo poles.    He has worked with a variety of mediums and materials and for the past 15 years has used bamboo in his "Power Poles" series and other assemblages that link African, African American and Asian themes and motifs.

Making art is only one half of Alonzo Davis’s life and the National Yard Sale is the latest example of his long-term art desire to further political and social action through the arts.  His exposure to activism probably began during his early childhood at Tuskegee Institute where his father taught.  Davis was exposed to many forms of social and political engagement on the campus of this historically black university.  There is also a family tradition for giving to the community.  His aunt, Clara Wilson of Birmingham, Alabama, set the precedent giving generously of her time and resources to local organizations.  His mother Agnes Davis and another aunt, Louise Moses established a scholarship fund through the California Librarians Black Caucus; both women often helped artists in need. 

Davis came of age during the civil rights movement in California where his family moved in 1956.  The Watts uprising in California in 1965 brought renewed emphasis to the condition of blacks in American society.  In its aftermath, Davis and his brother Dale (also an artist) decided to open the Brockman Gallery in 1967 to provide an outlet for the emerging political and social expression later to become the black arts movement.   This gallery was more than a place to view and sell art, even though during its years of operation many, if not most, prominent African American artists of the time exhibited or participated in activities there.  Through its diverse programming it became a center of activism.  In addition to gallery exhibitions, the Brockman Gallery sponsored film festivals, a public arts program and music happenings. 

Alonzo Davis In the late 1980s, as an arts administrator and later in academia Davis advocated for diversity and inclusion.   He was a recipient of VCCA fellowships himself and served on their board.  Today, even as he focuses full time on his own art in his Mr. Rainier, Maryland studio, Davis continues his activism as a “private citizen.”  He established and runs an artist residency, AIR, in Paducah, Kentucky, and sponsors numerous artist forums.  He is the recipient of many public art commissions including:  the Boston subway, Atlanta International Airport, Shelby County Public Library in Memphis, Tennessee, the Prince Georges County, Maryland Courthouse and the US Embassy in Togo, West Africa.

Alonzo Davis has, and continues to be, an advocate, mentor and catalyst for many established and emerging artists.  

Lynn Sylvester of Washington, DC is a lawyer and part-time artist.