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'The Gifts of Daso' exhibit reveals African American history, art, culture

A new art exhibit opening as a special engagement at Arizona State University depicts the richness of culture in the 20th century American South through the eyes of acclaimed folk artist John Daso.

"The Big Meetin’" by American folk artist John Daso was inspired by the artist’s love of his grandmother’s deep-dish sweet potato pie often enjoyed during Revival time at this home church when he was a child.

“The Gifts of Daso: Let Me Tell You the Story” will be presented Sunday, Nov. 14 as a special engagement in the Harry Wood Gallery at Arizona State University’s Tempe campus. The show will feature an opportunity to engage with the artist and join him for a lively gallery talk highlighting his work and career in the arts.

“The School of Art is thrilled to exhibit Mr. Daso’s paintings and thankful for his willingness to engage with our students,” said Forrest Solis, associate professor and director of the School of Art at ASU. “Mr. Daso’s paintings are an important contribution to our cultural narrative and we are grateful for the opportunity to learn about his process and the stories behind the people and places he depicts.”

The exhibition is the result of a community collaborative led by Florence Franklin, a local business leader and philanthropist, and Eula Dean, a local education leader, and community advocate. Together, they introduced the idea for the exhibit to ASU’s Educational Outreach and Student Services earlier this fall as a community engagement opportunity and art education experience for students. EOSS embraced the idea and engaged the School of Art to present the exhibit and provide learning activities for K–12 students with ASU Preparatory Academy, and advanced art students with ASU’s School of Art.

“I learned of John's work when I was looking for a painting that reminded me of Charleston, South Carolina, as I lived there in the early years of my career,” Franklin said 

“What I found was a painting that reminded me of my childhood — ‘The Big Meetin’,” Franklin said. “John Daso’s work speaks to you and captures points in time that make you reflect upon your life's journey. I am thrilled to be a part of sharing his artistry with the Valley,” she added. 

A self-taught folk artist and visionary, John Daso’s works depict rural African American living, illuminating scenes from his childhood. Portraying truth through realism, his art is in the permanent collection of the Lucy Craft Laney Museum of Black History in Augusta, Georgia, and in the personal collections of President Barack Obama, President George W. Bush, Oprah Winfrey, Julian Bond and now Florence Franklin.

“Arizona State University is proud to join with esteemed community partners, Florence Franklin and Eula Dean to offer an art experience to the ASU and Greater Phoenix community that educates and is reflective of the multicultural fabric of communities across America,” said Sharon Smith, vice president of outreach partnerships with Educational Outreach and Student Services. “ASU is deeply committed to community engagement and inclusion as evidenced by our charter, and this collaboration was a perfect fit with our mission,” Smith said.

Solis expressed her thanks to the organizers for providing such a valuable opportunity for the School of Art to engage with Daso and present his work to the ASU community and beyond. 

“Also, an important story is that of his life’s journey as a prolific artist, successful entrepreneur, and a valued community leader, especially for our students who are at the start of their own artistic careers,” Solis said.

Exhibit programming

Opening Celebration

2–6 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 13|
Harry Wood Gallery
ASU School of Art Building

Join ASU and community leaders, and the exhibiting artist for the unveiling of “The Gifts of Daso: Let Me Tell You the Story.” Meet and hear from those involved and get a behind-the-scenes tour of the exhibition to hear a unique perspective from the artist, John Daso.

Artist engagement with ASU Advance Art Students

2–4 p.m., Monday, Nov. 14
ASU School of Art Building 

Artist engagement with K–5 grade students

8:30–10:30 a.m., Tuesday, Nov. 15
ASU Prep, Pilgrim Rest campus

Artist engagement with 9th–12th grade students

12:30–2 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 15
ASU Prep, Phoenix campus

joan.sherwood@asu.edu