Gerald Davidson spent his youth doodling. At 42, he still keeps a sketchbook nearby in case inspiration suddenly strikes.
"My brain works at 100 miles per hous," he said.
His constant flow of ideas supplies T-shirt, logo and banner designs -- for his graphics business, Graphix Studio -- as well as mosaic designs -- for his latest artistic experiments.
On a March 2010 morning, he worked in his third-floor Philadelphia Street studio. He was deciding what to do next with a geometric mosaic tiled with pieces of pink, brown and white glass. Traditional African music played in the background.
Davidson said he never worked with stained glass until he helped restore Fawn United Methodist Church's windows after a 2007 fire.
He decided he wanted to use the traditional medium in different ways. After months of testing, his artistic process took shape.
Each mosaic, Davidson said, starts with a sketch, which he transfers to a polystyrene surface. Then, he selects the color combination from a rainbow of cut glass pieces and jars of pre-cut tiles, glass stones, pebbles and seeds that line one wall of his studio. He cuts the glass with pliers and razors and then adheres it to the substrate with glue and cement. He finishes the piece by grouting between the tiles.
Some of his designs are a free-form combination of shapes and others are of specific objects and people. He tries to incorporate ethnic elements and symbols from African, Native American and Indigenous Australian cultures.
"My voice is starting to come out," he said. "(My work) is expressive of who I am."
Davidson was born in Zimbabwe and grew up amid segregationist attitudes in the 1970s. The country categorized people by race: black, white and mixed race.
Even though many public facilities, churches and schools were segregated, Davidson didn't fall into that mindset. After his parents divorced, he lived with his mother in one of the only desegregated zones: low-income housing in Bulawayo, the country's second-largest city.
By the age of 9, he had a part-time job at a supermarket to supplement his family income. Davidson found activities to liberate him from racial tensions. A co-worker encouraged him to sketch, while walking around the city, he used to peek into dance classes. Since he couldn't afford art or dance classes, he improvised.
"I wanted to be instrumental in impacting others in a positive sense," he said.
After winning dance competitions as a teen, Davidson joined a semi-professional troupe that mixed jazz, break dancing and ballet. He continued doodling and used some of his drawings to create T-shirts for his troupe. By 19, he had his own small printing company. On nights and weekends, the workers, mostly Davidson's friends, pushed the equipment to the side to create a dance floor.
Davidson loved sharing his art, especially with young people, but even that was not immune to segregationist attitudes.
Frustrated, he left Zimbabwe and took classes in South Africa, Trinidad and Tobago and England, where he married his wife Roshne in 1992.
"I have an internal compulsion to grow and learn new things," he said.
In 2003, he came to New Jersey when Roshne applied for a U.S. nursing program. While visiting a friend from Zimbabwe who lived in York, Davidson became interested in local art enrichment programs and decided to relocate. He got a job at Logos Academy and got involved in the York Youth Movement. Roshne got a job at York Hospital.
About two years ago, Davidson decided to pursue his art full time. Steve Mitchell of Rudy Art Glass helped set him up with a studio and materials. Both Mitchell and York mosaic artist Mary Cantrell Tellez served as mentors for Davidson.
Tellez and Davidson met at a City Arts Gallery drawing class and kept running into each other around town. Tellez, who created the Mosaic Oasis Mural on Philadelphia Street, talked about her technique with Davidson.
Last year, they decided to share a booth at YorkFest Fine Arts Festival. "It seemed like a good idea to try with a friend," Tellez said. From that event, they both were asked to display their work at York's Blue Moon restaurant.
Tellez said that in addition to being talented, Davidson sets goals and follows through.
Davidson is scheduled to show his art at a few more festivals this summer.
In the future, he hopes to offer art classes to children and adults. His goal: To bring people together and introduce them to other cultures.
About the artist
Name: Gerald Davidson
Lives in: York, originally from Zimbabwe
Medium: owns graphic design company Graphix Studio and creates mosaic pieces; he is a member of the Society of American Mosaic Artists: www.americanmosaics.org
Family: wife, Roshne, son, Shekinah, 10
Other interests: Dance, music, working with youth
The UK annexed Zimbabwe, formerly Southern Rhodesia, in 1923. In 1965, the government, which formed a constitution that favored Caucasians in power, declared its independence. The UK did not recognize the constitution and demanded more voting rights for the black African majority. The white-minority government declared itself a republic in 1970. A civil war ensued and after UN sanctions and guerrilla uprisings, the country's first free elections were held in 1979 and the united Zimbabwe declared its independence in 1980.
Robert Mugabe, the nation's first prime minister, has ruled since 1987 and has been accused of using fraud and intimidation to keep the Zimbabwe African National Union -- Patriotic Front, or ZANU-PF, party in power. His land redistribution campaign, which began in 2000, drove Caucasian farmers away, crippled the economy and led to shortages of basic commodities.
In 2008 elections, Movement for Democratic Change, or MDC, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai won the most votes in the presidential polls, but not enough to win outright. In February 2009, after months of violence and tense negotiations, Mugabe remained president and Tsvangirai became prime minister.
Sources: www.zimembassy.se/history.html; www.zimbabweprimeminister.org