Award-winning artist dies at 43

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. -- Talmadge Davis, an award-winning artist whose paintings
evoked powerful emotions and a deep appreciation for his artwork, passed
away Nov. 3 after suffering a massive heart attack. He was 43 years old.

Born in Oklahoma to Robert (Bob) Lee and Patricia L. (Horton) Davis on May
30, 1962 in McAlester, Okla., he spent his childhood in Crowder, Eufaula,
and Tahlequah, Okla. After high school in Kerrville, Texas, Davis' service
in the U.S. Army from 1982 -- '87 included a stint in Germany with the
Special Forces.

After relocating to Tahlequah he actively pursued his passion for art, and
began painting full time in 1998. Since 2000, after winning a number of
first place and Best in Show prizes, his paintings were exhibited as a part
of the annual art show at Cherokee Heritage Center.

The driving force behind his art was the preservation of Cherokee culture
and ancient history. Although he never formally studied art, Davis was
given the title "Master Artist" by the Five Civilized Tribes Museum. He was
also the recipient of many art show awards throughout the country,
including Tulsa Indian Festival; Wichita Indian Market; Southwest Classic
Art Show; and a multiple winner for Best in Category and Peoples' Choice at
the Cherokee Heritage Center. In addition, he was awarded the Cherokee
Medal of Honor for raising awareness about Cherokee National heritage in
the mainstream.

At the 29th annual Trail of Tears Art Show in 2000, Davis took home the
People's Choice Award as well as the Best of Division Award for his
painting entitled "Walkabout -- A Warrior's Spirit." He also received an
honorable mention for his work entitled, "How Far Must We Walk before We're

In 2002, at a showing of more than 300 works of fine art, Davis took the
Grand Award at the 31st Annual Trail of Tears Art Show for his stunning
painting, "The Headdress." The Bank of Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Arts
Council, the show's sponsors, awarded him $1,500 in prize money for the

Davis always used real people as models for his work, and found inspiration
for at least one of his award winners in a Vietnam War veteran. "Billy
Walkabout is a full-blood Cherokee who was the most decorated Native
American in the Vietnam War," explained Davis. "His story speaks to
generations of history among Cherokee warriors."

Davis also used Cherokee culture and art to break down barriers. He summed
up his work this way: "When I paint, I'm not trying to tell people a story;
I want them to see the people. Once you get to know someone, you don't see
skin color anymore. People are visual. If they see something that's
culturally correct it'll stick in their minds a lot better. What I'm trying
to do is reintroduce an ancient culture and heritage, pre-Columbus," he
said. "We had a rich heritage long before the Trail of Tears, but we've
forgotten what we used to be. I try to emphasize our tradition and who we
were, not who we turned out to be."

In his work, Davis utilized traditional Cherokee images to create an
understanding of where the Cherokee people once were in order to help them
understand where they are now. "We need to have pride in our past to have
faith in our future," he often said.