Floyd MacMillan Davis was a well-known illustrator especially noted for his depictions of southern rural hill people. He gave much of the credit for the success of his pictures to the critical judgment of his wife, painter Gladys Rockmore Davis. Floyd Davis’ point of view, however, was uniquely his own. A gallery of wonderful characters depicted with poetic realism and warm humor peopled his visual world.
The wealth of detail in his pictures would seem to have required much study from models or photos of them. In fact, Davis did not use models at all but relied instead on his remarkably retentive memory and lively imagination. In his early years, he did advertising illustration notable for the fragile beauty and lofty hauteur of the society types he drew.
In the thirties, however, Davis began to illustrate stories of humbler subjects. His pictures of southern rural and hill people for such authors as William Faulkner, Sigman Byrd, Glenn Allan, and MacKinlay Kantor became immensely popular. He loved these assignments and filled the pictures not only with a fascinating cast of individuals but added the special Davis touches: a cat crouched in the corner ready to leap out at a rival, a fly on an old man’s head, a small lizard hiding behind a tree. None of these details intruded on the picture story itself; they are there for the perceptive viewer to discover. Readers responded enthusiastically; his pictures were admired as much as the stories themselves.
With the outbreak of World War II, Davis was selected as a correspondent-artist for the War Department and painted in various war theaters. Many of these distinguished paintings were reproduced by LIFE magazine as part of a pictorial record of the war and hang in the Pentagon building in Washington, D.C.
Over the years, Davis won several Art Directors Club medals and other awards, but more important than this, his work had the admiration of his whole profession. Floyd Davis was one of the great figures of American illustration.
(Information on the biography above is based on writings from the book, “The Illustrator in America, 1880-1980”, A Century of Illustration by Walt and Roger Reed.)
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