Thursday, July 8, 2010

Arthur Q. Davis | Architect & Camoufleur

Above The cover of the autobiography of New Orleans architect Arthur Q. Davis, It Happened by Design: The Life and Work of Arthur Q. Davis (University Press of Mississippi / Ogden Museum of Southern Art, University of New Orleans, 2009). In collaboration with Nathaniel Curtis, working as Curtis and Davis, he designed some of the landmark modern buildings in New Orleans, including the Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans Rivergate Exhibition Center, New Orleans Public Library, and various other structures, both national and international. Born in New Orleans in 1920, Davis served in the US Naval Reserve during World War II, in connection with which he was sent to Dartmouth College to learn about naval camouflage (I wonder if he knew Adelbert Ames II, who was at Dartmouth at the time, and whose research was related to camouflage). He was then sent to Washington DC, where he worked as a ship camouflage artist in the Bureau of Ships (c. 1943) under the direction of artist Charles Bittinger, who had also been connected with naval camouflage during World War I.

While he doesn't mention them by name, Davis must also have worked with Everett Warner, Bennett Buck, Sheffield Kagy, William Walters, Arthur Conrad, Robert R. Hays, and Eliot O'Hara. He recalls: I developed a very effective ship camouflage design for painting these massive forms [destroyers, cruisers, even New Jersey Class battleships] and was sent down to the Brooklyn Navy Yard to assist with the actual painting of the ship…Using a long stick with chalk on the end, I drew the patterns on the actual hull in accordance with the design I had developed in the studio in Washington. It was he who designed the camouflage for the USS Missouri. He continues: I was very happy working in Washington at the Bureau of Ships' Camouflage Department and would have stayed there indefinitely, but instead he was reassigned to the Pacific war zone.

It was also of interest to learn about Davis' architectural training at Harvard's Graduate School of Design, which was then headed by Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius, with whom he worked directly. One of his classmates at Harvard was I.M. Pei. After graduating, he worked as an intern for Eero Saarinen in Michigan.