Chance seating leads to women’s group that shares art and cultures

Three years ago, retired teachers and artists Audrey Davis and Janet Lasley were seated together at the annual REACH conference. Since that meeting, they’ve founded and co-chair a very diverse group of women artists called Women Strong.

Members live in Spring Valley, Fairborn, Centerville, Kettering, Oakwood, as well as all areas of Dayton.

“We talked for several hours during the conference and realized how much we have in common,” said Davis.

Davis retired from Trotwood-Madison Schools and Lasley from Chaminade-Julienne.

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“I was so excited to know Audrey because I liked her and realized we had a lot in common - and that was before I knew she was Bing’s wife,” said Lasley, who knew Bing through trips with her classes to his gallery.

“We really hit it off and decided to meet for lunch, later went to an exhibit at the Dayton Art Institute, and then on a walk in Yellow Springs,” she said.

“Everything clicked, even how our families lived – both of our fathers had been engineers, we had similar issues with our children, and we decided to find other women and get a group together of women who wanted to be with us and share in our community,” said Lasley.

Davis said her husband, Bing, has “opened opportunities for African-American artists who feel they’ve been pigeonholed, but we wanted to expand the female artist experience.”

“Instead of simply offering exhibition venues, we wanted to create communities within the larger community,” she said. “It’s surprising to me that people go through entire days without talking to or touching someone outside of their own cultures.”

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They formed Women Strong, 11 women artists of various ethnicities. According to Davis, “they had to be serious about their craft, intelligent and articulate, and interested in sharing outside of their particular communities. We wanted to share our life experiences; it was important to know and enjoy each other and to go into our different neighborhoods, often outside of our comfort zones.”

The group ranges in age from their 20s to 90s and meets monthly at one another’s homes.

“They started at my Kettering house,” said Lasley. “The next meeting was at Audrey’s, in Dayton View, and it was like visiting a museum, with all the art and artifacts, plus the fascinating architecture. Then, it was at Francis’ in the Dayton Triangle - I felt ‘wrapped around’ with all her dolls and collages on display.”

Lasley said, “Audrey’s pretty blunt, and puts out some tough questions at each gathering, but we deal with them and talk openly and honestly about race, assimilation, coming from different parts of the country and other countries, including China and Persia, now Iran.”

“It’s such an eclectic group, even in the art,” said Davis.

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Their work ranges from painting, drawing and sculpture to jewelry, batik, embroidery, fabric and dolls.

Women Strong has had three exhibits: Bing Davis’ EboNia Gallery on West Third Street, The Peace Museum on Monument Avenue, and currently at the main branch of the Dayton-Montgomery Country Library in downtown Dayton.

“With each exhibit, we include a panel discussion,” said Davis. “Women Strong isn’t just about exhibiting, it’s about sharing and expanding our community through our shared interests - we’ve all gained from one another and from those who attend the panel discussions.”

The group isn’t looking to increase membership, “but we’d like to encourage similar groups to form around a common interest – cooking, gardening, whatever their interests are - but including women of diverse cultures to share their experiences, expanding their ‘neighborhoods’ and communities like we have. We’ve become a warm, encouraging and challenging team of women.”

The current exhibit, which includes nine of the 11 members’ works, will be on display at the Opportunity Space on the first floor of the main branch through March 29. Follow the group on Facebook at Women Strong: A Multimedia Exhibit.

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