Influence of the Sabine

The Artistic Journey of Franklin Demetrius Willis

January 27–March 2, 2008

Franklin Willis. Gloves & Shears, n.d. Oil on canvas, 20 1/4 x 23 inches Franklin Willis. A Mirror to the Soul, n.d. Oil on canvas, 27 x 22 1/4 inches

A creative heritage steeped in rural East Texas takes center stage as the Tyler Museum of Art unveils its latest exhibition, Influence of the Sabine: The Artistic Journey of Franklin Demetrius Willis. Organized by the TMA, the exhibition is open to the public from Friday, February 1 to Sunday, March 2 in the Museum's Bell Gallery.

Stewart will be on hand for the exhibition's opening reception, scheduled from 4:30–6:30 p.m. Friday, February 1 at the Museum, highlighted by a gallery talk featuring the artist at 5:30 p.m. The public is invited and admission is free, but reservations are requested by calling 903-595-1001.

Influence of the Sabine: The Artistic Journey of Franklin Demetrius Willis highlights the recent oil paintings of Franklin Willis, an associate professor of painting at Northern Arizona University whose works reflect the character of both his present living and working environment – and the persona of the deep East Texas of his childhood. Including 20 still-lifes and landscapes representing Willis' prolific output over the last several years, the exhibition reveals images that merge the artist's extensive training with his personal perspective as an African American born and raised in Longview, Texas.

Willis said he has been drawn to art since his early youth, "amazed at how people used drawings and paintings to reflect the world around them" during a visit to the Longview Museum of Fine Arts in the sixth grade. Arriving during a changeover of exhibitions during one museum visit, he was invited to help take down the outgoing show and hang new artwork for the next – "and to touch the frames of the paintings and drawings pointed me to a dream that has encompassed my entire life," he said. "From that point forward, I knew I had to be an artist."

He was awarded the L'louise Graham Art Scholarship via the Kilgore College Art Symposium to begin his studies at Kilgore College from 1982–84, then landed another art scholarship to propel him to a BFA degree in art at Corpus Christi State University. Willis completed his graduate studies with an MFA in art from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, culminating in a 1989 Fulbright Grant to Germany.

Influence of the Sabine marks Willis' 18th solo exhibition in a career that encompasses more than 80 museum and gallery exhibitions – and a string of personal accolades – over the last quarter-century. Venues to showcase his work include the African-American Museum and Valley House Gallery in Dallas, the George Washington Carver Museum in Austin, the Art Museum of South Texas in Corpus Christi, Longview Museum of Fine Arts, the West Valley Art Museum in Arizona, the Detroit Council for The Arts in Michigan, the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, and the MB Modern Gallery in New York, as well as the Galerie Marie-Luise Berendson in Hamburg, Germany.

His work is included in numerous permanent collections throughout the U.S., including the African-American Museum in Dallas, the Black Arts Alliance of Austin, the Multicultural Heritage Center in Corpus Christi, Northern Arizona University, and Holtzman & Silverman Developers in Farmington Hills, Michigan.

In conjunction with Influence of the Sabine, the TMA invites families throughout the region for a free Black History Month celebration from 2:00–4:00 p.m. Sunday, February 10 at the Museum. The celebration will feature a performance by the Greater St. Mary's Baptist Church Choir, along with a special presentation by young members of the Tyler/East Texas Chapter of Jack and Jill of America, Inc. For reservations, call 903-595-1001.