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John L. Davis.

John L. Davis Retires From Institute Of Texan Cultures

By James Benavides
Public Affairs Specialist

(Aug. 11, 2008)--The man who for more than 40 years helped craft the nation’s view of Texas, John L. Davis, will retire August 15 from The University of Texas at San Antonio's museum, The Institute of Texan Cultures.

Davis joined the museum team as a researcher in 1967, two years after then Texas Governor John Connally commissioned the Institute to develop the Texas Pavilion for the 1968 World's Fair in San Antonio. Davis would help present and preserve the stories, histories and traditions of the numerous cultural groups of Texas and would continue to act as a steward of the institute after the fair, as the Texas Pavilion became a permanent museum.

Davis completed his doctorate in humanities at the University of Texas at Austin, while working as a researcher for the institute. After HemisFair, Davis remained with the museum until the mid 1980s. In 1986, he was a part-time professor at UTSA and San Antonio College, often serving as a consultant to the ITC and working with Jo Ann Andera, director of the Texas Folklife Festival.

During his tenure at UTSA, Davis served in various capacities: lecturer, teaching associate, director of research, associate executive director of research and interim executive director.

He returned to the institute, full-time, in 1998 and became the head of the research department. In 2005, when Jerry Barloco retired as executive director, Davis agreed to serve as interim, a position he held for the past three years.

"John has been the soul of the Institute of Texan Cultures and he has served faithfully and honorably," said Jude Valdez, UTSA vice president of community services. "He was the founder of many ITC programs and leaves a legacy for visitors across the state and the country to appreciate."

Valdez said Davis's leadership came at a critical time and his stewardship allowed the museum to transition to a position which will aid the university in achieving premier public research university status.

"His contributions are immense and he will be missed," said Valdez. "We are proud to say he will always be part of the UTSA family."

In 1985, Davis designed the memorable ITC show, "Reach for the Sky: Aviation in Texas." Also in the 80s, Davis was the designer, writer and curator for "San Antonio," the sister city exhibit, as San Antonio built a relationship with Kumamoto, Japan. One of Davis' last projects, "HemisFair 1968: San Antonio's Introduction to the World," is a 40-year retrospective exhibit on the event that shaped modern San Antonio and brought about the museum that would teach thousands the importance and treasure of cultural diversity.

"The research component of ITC when I first arrived was strong, and the researchers were amazing people that contributed actively to the continual development of content, so we had major exhibits, books, publications and a constant stream of projects and programs," said Andera, who has known Davis for 39 years. "John was the director of research who made all of that happen."

Researcher Rhett Rushing, who has recorded oral histories with Davis, adds that Davis is a published poet, collected painter and talented graphic artist. During the 80s and 90s he became known throughout the state as an expert on ghosts and was much in demand as a presenter during October. As a storyteller, he has appeared on stage at the Texas Storytelling Festival, at the Fulton Mansion Christmas Celebration and in the pages of Texas Highways magazine for his ghost-storytelling at Sebastopol State Historic Site.

Davis will take up residence in the historic town of Mason, Texas, with his wife, Rosemary, and hopes to continue his pursuits of painting, writing and poetry.

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