Harry Lee Davis died peacefully at home the morning of Saturday, February 10, 2018 after extended health challenges related to paraplegia. Harry’s wife, Joanne was with him during his transition into eternal rest and it was made with the grace, wisdom, and flawless love of God. Harry was born on June 25, 1949 at Community Hospital in Wilmington, NC to Anna Ray Simpson Davis and Charles Edward Davis, Sr. (deceased). His maternal grandparents were Gladys Bannerman Everett and Andrew M. Simpson, and his paternal grandparents were Thomas Jeff Davis and Era Brown; all are deceased.
Harry attended public schools in New Hanover County and graduated from Williston High School in 1967. After graduation he joined the U.S. Army, 82nd Airborne Division, and became a military policeman (MP) at Fort Bragg, NC. It was there that Harry’s life was forever changed. In 1970 a fellow MP’s gun accidently discharged and the bullet struck Harry under his collarbone, hitting his spine, and leaving him confined to a wheelchair. From that wheelchair Harry decided what type of man he would become, and he began to uniquely define himself as the man that you know. After this debilitating injury, Harry began to rediscover his talent as an artist, was determined to work out and stay healthy, and he decided to enter college. Harry earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology in 1979 from the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW). Throughout his life, Harry was an avid fisherman, reader, movie watcher, and music lover. Those who know him are aware that almost any Motown song met with his approval and the Temptations were one of his favorite singing groups.
Harry was married (1984-1989) to Brenda Waddell Sutton Davis (deceased) and became step-Dad to her three children, Don, Andrea, and Eric. Don and Andrea’s father, Sgt. Larest C. Sutton was killed in action in Vietnam in 1969. After the children graduated from Laney High School; Don in 1985, Andrea in 1986, and Eric in 1990 and their mother’s passing in 1992, the three moved to the Houston, Texas area. Don graduated from Texas Southern University (’97) and owns Modern Barber College in Houston, TX where he lives. Don’s daughter Taylor is finishing her freshman year at Xavier University in New Orleans, LA. Andrea Sutton Chapman, a graduate of Texas Southern University (’08) owns Cut Close Barber Shop and her husband, Roderick H. Chapman, Sr., is a member of the Houston Fire Department. They live in Baytown, Texas and have two adult sons, Roderick II (Michelle) and Brendan. Roderick and Michelle have two grandchildren, Roderick Chapman III and Kavery Chapman, all of Baytown, TX. Harry’s youngest stepson, Eric Williams is the father of six children, Eric Jr., Dallas, Deion, Erica, Eli, and Teric. Eric graduated from Modern Barber College and works at Arts Barber & Style Salon in Baytown, TX where he and his children live.
Harry married Dr. Joanne E. Nottingham, on July 11, 1997 in Wilmington, NC, two years after they met at the Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration in 1995 at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. As a professor, Joanne shared her love of her students with him and Harry shared his love of art with her. Harry was appreciative that Joanne loved his adult step-children as if they were her own. Joanne was appreciative that Harry loved her brother Jimmie, nephew James IV “Jamie”, sister Janet and brother-in-law Joe Terrasi. Harry also had a special bond with his mother-in-law, Martha Eleanora Nottingham until the day she died. Harry and Joanne built a wonderful and full life together traveling to his art shows, sharing fun times at home with family, friends, and lots of DocNott’s university friends, students and former students. They also enjoyed simply being alone together. As a couple, their love was undeniable to anyone who was fortunate to be in their presence for a while.
Harry was a self-taught artist who developed his natural ability and artistic techniques through trial and error along with long hours of practice. Working with oil paints on canvas, his two trademarks are a painstaking attention to detail and bold, bright colors. Over the years Harry became widely recognized as one of the premier African American artists in the country and he was the recipient of many awards and honors. His work has appeared in numerous group and solo exhibitions for over forty-five years. The Harry Davis style is impressionistic realism in bright, vivid colors. He often told those who asked that he didn’t try to say anything profound or philosophical in his paintings, yet they are powerful and striking images that rarely fail to move the viewer. His painting The Pipe Player was singled out by U.S. Art Gallery magazine as a truly notable work of art. Harry’s enigmatic works of African life, the rural American South, and spiritual images are highly sought additions to private and public collections. In more recent years Harry, a life-long boxing fan, incorporated paintings of boxers and jazz and music images into his portfolio of work.
Harry was first publically recognized by the Wilmington Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. in 1974. He was named 1981 Special Volunteer from the State of North Carolina and 1983 Handicapped Citizen of the Year; in 1985 he won a Blue Ribbon and Honorable Mention at the National Rehabilitation Association Art Show and an Honorable Mention in 1986. Beginning in 1988 Harry worked with students in Wayne, New Hanover, and other NC counties to teach them about art and African culture from his perspective and through his artwork. He was named the Greenwood Middle School Friend of the Arts in Goldsboro, NC in 1996 and he received the Esther Paige-Hill Award in 1997. Harry won the Best in Show Award at the 2001 NC Azalea Festival and was named 2001 Man of the Year by the Town Hall Community Education and Cultural Center in Wilmington, NC. In 2006 Harry was selected as the featured artist of the 59th North Carolina Azalea Festival and in 2013 he won the Best of Show Award at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Over the years Harry was recognized by the Central Intelligence Agency in McLean, VA, U.S. Office of Equal Opportunity and Civil Rights in Bethesda, MD, the King-Tisdell Cottage Museum in Savannah, Ga, Black Artist Guild in Kinston, NC and the Arts Council in Washington and Wilson, NC. In Wilmington NC Artworks Gallery, Chase Gallery, Harvest Moon Restaurant, and Cape Fear Seafood showcased his artistic talent and work, as did LyBenson’s Gallery in Beaufort, SC.
Private owners of Harry’s artwork include Michael and Kathy Allen, Halle Berry, the late singer James Brown, the late actress Nell Carter, Perry and Beth Davis, NC Supreme Court Justice Henry Frye, Sherry and Blythe Jordan, Michael Kingoff, Steve Levine, Carl Lumbly, Gloria Naylor, C.C.H. Pounder, James and Linda Robinson, Dr. Michelle Howard-Vital and Mr. Geri Vital, Denzel Washington, Dr. Eugene and Mrs. Kathy Wright. Among public owners is Harry’s alma mater, the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW); in 2006 the William Madison Randall Library at UNCW housed his artistic papers in the Manuscripts Collection. The collection is a reflection of his artistic career featuring newspaper clippings, correspondence with celebrities and children, and publications featuring his work.
Harry leaves to cherish his memory his wife, Dr. Joanne E. Nottingham (Belville, NC); mother, Rev. Anna Davis; brother, Rev. Charles E. Davis Jr. (Lula); and sister, Carol Davis Young (all of Wilmington, NC) and his three step-children, Don Sutton of Houston, TX, Andrea Sutton Chapman (Roderick) of Baytown, TX, and Eric Williams of Baytown, TX. Other survivors include three aunts, Carolyn Whitley (Long Creek, NC), Hattie Crews (Cambria Heights, NY), and Lucy Farrior (Wilmington, DE); four nieces, Glenda Cooper (Sherman) of Jacksonville, FL, Wanda Thomas (Leland, NC), Charlene Clark (Timothy) of Lithonia, Ga, and Tanisha Parker (Wilmington, NC); and “brothers from other mothers” Thomas Lawson, Abdul Shareef, Gregory Hinnant, Barton Hatcher, and Larry “Poncho” Brown, as well as many cousins, nieces and grand-nieces, nephews and grand-nephews, other relatives and friends.
Harry was a cool dude, friend, mentor, and fishing partner to an extraordinary number of people and the positive impact of his life and legacy is far-reaching. You’ll notice that a starry night sky is a little brighter.
A memorial celebration will be held 1:00 pm on Saturday, March 10, 2018 at New Beginning Christian Church (NBCC) 3120 Alex Trask Drive Castle Hayne. The family will greet friends following the service. Flowers and memorial donations may be made to NBCC. The family especially thanks Dr. Warren Hsu at Wilmington VA, Dr. William Powers at NHRMC, Dr. Matthew Sincock at Wilmington Health, Dr. Mark Morgan of Wilmington Plastic Surgery, and all of the nurses who cared for him in hospital and at home.