Celebrating NABS Folk Art Creator – Carolyn “Kooki” Davis

With the curtains closing on Women’s HerStory Month 2015, as with Black History Month, one contemplates that one short month is far from sufficient to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of either women or contributors to the African diaspora
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Upon further thought, one also becomes aware that the great ones who have traversed our lifepaths extend far beyond the courageous global sisters depicted on a couple of my favorite t-shirts depicted here, but also to those who have crossed and blessed our contemporary everyday existence.  Whether it be the grandmother who taught us the art of storytelling, the teacher who guided us to see and explore our deepest potential, or the sister friend whose awe-inspiring personal art or literature enhances our lives, we learn that history is not always remote or of bygone eras but is also an ongoing sometimes very personal unfoldment of life-lifting events and people.
My friend, Rev. Hasifa Rahman, frequently honored me by labeling me a “living ancestor”; however, there are innumerable living ancestors throughout our world, if we only have the vision to behold.  NABS is replete with such diversely talented ancestral contributors, beginning with our co-founder, Mama Linda Goss.
 On the occasions when I have been blessed to chat with this walking storehouse of history and folklore, the conversation has soared far beyond an ordinary chat to one of rich sharings of literary, art, and folklore resources, as well as a plethora of information on outstanding contemporary contributors right in our midst.
Now for a bit of griot “indirection”, my grandson has been enthralled with mermaids ever since he has been able to talk.  Although he has a “gazillion” toys both at home and at Grandma’s place, his most profound play time seems to revolve around the fringed bookmarks I ordered from the Asamoah family kente weavers of Ghana; a few of them comprise his “mermaids” of varying personalities (and sometimes “attitudes”!)  As time has moved on, my interest has also expanded from collecting Seminole memorabilia for my Black Seminole lectures and exhibits to collecting Black mermaid jewelry and literature,  inspired largely by the Mama Linda sharings and the Black Mermaids group I joined on Facebook.
In addition, I have come to deeply appreciate the great folkloric art, particularly the Black mermaid creations, of one the contemporary great NABS contributor, Carolyn (“Kooki”) Davis of Seattle, Washington.Kooki's pics--bio  A Caribbean-born storyteller as well as wearable art and ancestral doll creator, Kooki is renowned for her show-stopping coats, vests, and jackets, several of which have been purchased right off her back; (only to reveal an equally gorgeous piece layered underneath).
Mama Linda amusingly relates how one of these colorful traffic stoppers  initially  brought her and the renowned Black quilters historian and anthologist, Gladys-Marie Frye together, when she so admired Kooki’s captivating coat creation that she felt that she immediately  had to get contact information for this artist from Mama Linda, who was subsequently shocked to find that the person so taken with her garment was the great ancestral contributor whom she would later come to affectionately call “Mama Frye”.  The rest, of course, is decades-long “herStory.”
 Having accomplished the phenomenal task of creating 75 commissioned Mother Mary dolls for NABS’ other beloved co-founder, Mother Mary Carter Smith, Kooki has continued to create a body of work–wearable art and dolls–which is in the collections of proud owners across the nation.  She poetically relates that her inspiration for her work flows from “…every flower, every tree, every woman I see.”
I am particularly proud of her stunning mermaids which have recently swam into my world and of the grandma quilter doll (with her own mini quilt) which reigns in a spot of honor in my ancestral hallway, a tribute to the many talented quilters who have crossed and blessed my life.  Then there is the kente-clad “wisdom seeker” with knowledge keys for hands.  Lastly, just check out, if you will, the piercing gaze of the fur-bedecked mid-aged doll whom I call “the mermaid diva”.  What a story this fiercely proud sister mermaid has to tell.  She has evidently paid her dues!
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 (Kooki Davis photo above- courtesy Carolyn “Kooki” Davis; Yemaya doll in blue – photo credit:  Jeanette (Moonsong) Mallory Hill 2015;  collage/ancestral tribute at Hampton photos:  Linda Cousins-Newton 2015; (the mermaid necklace in the bottom left collage photo is a Deb DiMarco creation.)  The closing photo (bottom left) depicts NABS co-founder, Mama Linda Goss, an ardent tree lover, paying tribute to the ancestors with other griots at the Emancipation Oak at Hampton University, Hampton, VA during the NABS Conference & Festival pilgrimage there in Nov of 2013.  She wears an ancestral tree-bedecked garment designed for her by Kooki  in honor of the occasion.) 
Collecting of the work of this great living ancestor and supremely talented folklore artist, Kooki Davis, is an artistic life enhancement, as I’m sure many NABS members and “Kooki creation collectors” would agree.  I am so pleased that I have learned to recognize that historymakers and contributors are not always of the distant past but oftentimes those like this skilled folkloric artist who actually grace our contemporary world.
–Linda Cousins-Newton
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4 comments on “Celebrating NABS Folk Art Creator – Carolyn “Kooki” Davis

  1. I am able to use Kooki’s work – Mother Mary Carter Smith dolls in school residencies. As I introduce Black Storyteller History Makers I recite Mother Mary’s work and share the doll with students. This blog enlightens me to share that the doll artist – Kooki Davis is also a historymaker. And when doing civic engagement folklife residencies, Kooki’s work will lend a great example of the crossroad of folkloric art and storytelling.

  2. nabstalking says:

    A wonderful utilization, Queen Nur, of the uplifting works of the pioneering griot, Mother Mary Carter Smith, combined with her wisely commissioned work created by Kooki Davis. I’m sure those in attendance have been deeply inspired in terms of their own creative talents and in the quest to learn more of our great global history. Hopefully these presentations are being both photographed and videotaped for future archiving. This again is “living history”.

  3. Sharon Holley says:

    Wonderful article on the artistry of Kooki Davis. I own one of the mermaid dolls and it is beautiful.

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