Vestie Davis – The people of Vestie

Vestie Davis (1903 – November 14, 1978) was a self-taught American artist whose works are in many important collections, including those of the American Folk Art Museum, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the Milwaukee Art Museum. His work was the subject of a monographic exhibition, Vestie Davis’s New York, at the American Folk Art Museum, which ran for over a year beginning in autumn 2009.


Born in Baltimore, Maryland, he went to New York City in 1928 and worked as a circus barker, newsstand manager and undertaker. Completely unschooled in the arts, he began painting after seeing a gallery painting on 57th Street. He said, “I can paint like that” and went to the paint store. Within a few days, he completed a work which sold. He is referred to as the city primitive.

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Discovered by a collector, he was featured at the Museum of American Folk Art. At first he painted only buildings but found that more popular were scenes with people. None of them are ever in a hurry. There is a sense of peace and joy and civility.

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The New York of Vestie Davis is a bright, sparkling place with impressive and diverse landmark buildings, bridges, parks, and beaches. It is a hub of civic, business, and recreational activity chronicled in meticulously detailed pictures from the 1950s through the 1970s. Davis predicted that some of his favorite sites would not survive the evolving needs of the city, and he faithfully rendered them with this in mind.