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Thursday, December 1, 2011

An old artist friend: David Woods

The son of Mr. Alex Woods Jr. and Mrs. Mosie Lee Woods, David Woods grew up in Montgomery, Texas and attended Montgomery schools. He was born 1953 in Navasota, Texas and grew up working in the cotton fields of Grimes and Montgomery Counties and learned to pick and chop cotton to help feed his family before he was a teen-ager. He remembers forsaking his education in order to meet the expectations of the cotton producers, who pressed him and most of his siblings into service every year at harvest time. But today he draws inspiration from these experiences of his childhood.

There was always around half a dozen children around the Woods household, and times were hard, so as a child David learned to make new toys out of cereal and cigar boxes, entertaining himself and others with his native creativity. He first began to draw and make posters while in school, and eventually realized that he had real talent in art.

David met me one day in 1979 in Plantersville at our family store, and showed me some of his paintings. He shyly showed me these wonderful little miniatures of Texas black folklore. An instant friendship began that day and I helped David make the transformation from miniature paintings to full sized oil paintings on canvas. Eventually he fell in love with acrylics, as they fit his fast, hard-edge style. For about a year he shared my studio in Navasota, where he began his art career.

This painting by David is one of several we have in our gallery at Blues Alley

David was a quick learner and soon attracted collectors around the area, who loved the paintings of his authentic childhood memories. He was commissioned to do major works for local ranches and businesses, and one large portrait of Security State Bank in Navasota (Now Wells Fargo Bank). David worked for the American Basket Factory in Navasota for years, painting Texas folk scenes on their baskets and wooden products. He later worked for Christian Enterprises, now relocated in Tyler, where he continued to use his talent as a decorative artist until they left Navasota.

One peculiar anecdote I remember when he first started was when he had a one-man show at Security State Bank in Navasota. His magnificent paintings adorned the bank for several days and then suddenly the bank was caught in a quandry, feeling pressure to take them down. Some black citizens seemed to object to the artwork, saying it was an insult to them. They found nothing redeeming about his works. Steve Johnson, the bank Vice President who had arranged the show decided to leave them up. He argued sincerely that David's works were done by a black person, about blacks and their heritage, and that he was just offering space to let that story be told... "It's history!" he exclaimed, "You can't argue with history!" Alas it still was not considered "PC" and the work was retired prematurely. Ironically, David Woods suffered prejudice from his own.

Like Leon Collins who came along much later, he sells mostly to white collectors, who seem to appreciate and care more about the story of black struggles and their roots. Every year David pleases fans by showing his works at the Navasota BluesFest, where he has also been known to pick the guitar as well. He has been the official artist of the event for over a decade.

David poses with his display at the Navasota Bluesfest.

David has done several gallery exhibits and was interviewed by Ray Miller and appeared on the Eyes of Texas, where his talent was showcased for Houston area television viewers. He has also been written about in the Navasota Examiner over the years, and the subject of one their feature articles.

David's works are realistic, but largely painted from his imagination. He loves to depict the dignity of people engaged in hard work, and the atmospheric effects that Texas humidity has on the landscape. He loves to paint the world he was born in, just one generation from the horse and buggy days, mule-drawn plows and water sipped from a hand dug well. David paints the old Southern angle of Texas, when blacks made up one half of the population in his hometown, and took pride in their role in building the State. He represents the last generation that can tell the story of Texas plantation life, fresh from his own experience. After painting professionally for over thirty years, his message still rings true and timeless, and will someday remind all of us of who we were and how far we have come.

David was the model for this commission I did for Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Moore.

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