Henry G. Davis
Belgian artist Henry Davis has had a lifelong fascination with anything American. As a young boy in post-World War II Belgium, he learned to speak English by befriending American GI’s on the streets of his hometown, Tongeron. The time was the early 1950’s. This is Henry’s story:
Henry V. Davis, Jr., Henry’s father, had been one of those GI’s. He had married Henry’s mother, Jeanne Yolande Daenen, just after the war. H.V.’s company was returned stateside when Henry was an eight month old infant. The baby Henry and his mother were left behind in Tongeron. Through the tragedy and confusion of war, Henry was separated from his father. Time, distance and economics dealt a cruel blow to Henry and H.V. They would never grow together as father and son. In time, contact was lost or abandoned.
Through childhood and adolescence, Henry’s hunger for anything American deepened. In the late 1950’s Henry discovered letters written by his father decades earlier. He wrote to the address on the yellowed envelope. To his amazement, his father, H.V., responded from the same small North Carolina town of his birth. Henry’s journey “home” had begun.
At the age of 18, Henry had the choice of either becoming a Belgian citizen or one of the U.S. He chose the U.S.—a country where he’d never been—so great was his passion. Henry eventually married his childhood sweetheart, Mary, and three children were born of the marriage. Even so, his American dream persisted and was passed on to his children.
Henry’s profession has been that of a highly skilled artisan in a pewter factory, where his natural talent became prevalent. His composite drawings became three dimensional reliefs on castings of steins, plates, and figurines that are marketed throughout Europe as well as the U.S. For this he gained recognition.
In 1987, Henry’s wife, Mary, entered a contest in a Belgian magazine in Henry’s behalf. They won the grand prize—a trip to the U.S. Henry was on his way “home.” In 1988, at the age of 40, Henry made his first trip to the U.S. He was welcomed by his father and a great extended family of aunts, uncles and cousins. Even his grandmother, Mrs. Nora Bird Davis, then in her nineties, was still a well and active homemaker.
Henry immediately began capturing his birthriqht through the medium dearest to him, his artistic talent. It was as if he could see the heritage that could have, and should have, been his. He drew, from photographs and real life, scenes of the town as it used to be, of what might have been the place of his childhood. To Henry, it is a process of taking and giving back.
He gave to the small town of Cliffside glimpses of its bygone days that are still dear memories to its residents. He gave to his American family a lost son returned. And, he has shared with the country he has cherished for nearly fifty years his talent of recapturing, in specific detail, glimpses of his Southern heritage.
Read more about Henry in this 1995 news story.