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Ulysses Davis
Beast Going through the Grass
about 1984–85
painted wood with rhinestones
35 1/8 x 9 5/8 x 6 3/4 in.
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase made possible by Ralph Cross Johnson



This fearsome-looking reptilian creature holding a fish in its mouth is one of the most imaginative carvings created by this railroad worker who turned to cutting hair. From the late 1960s through the 1980s, Davis displayed his wood sculptures in his Ulysses Barber Shop, which stood behind his house in Savannah, Georgia. His repertoire included biblical figures, notable men in U.S. history, African tribal leaders, as well as real and fantastical animals. The painstakingly rendered fish scales and the spikes along the beast's head and back reflect Davis's commitment to careful detail. "After a while," he said, "you've got to stop your mind and just finish it, [or] you'll keep carving till you don't have nothing left."