A. Davidson, Temple art professor

Abraham A. Davidson
Abraham A. Davidson
Posted: January 01, 2012

While studying city planning at Harvard University, Abraham A. Davidson had difficulty drawing perspectives correctly.

In his autobiography on a Temple University website, Dr. Davidson wrote that a Harvard professor discouraged his thoughts of graduate studies in architecture but, he recalled, "I might be allowed to continue in city planning.

"I thought city planning was beset by politics, while art history was something 'purer.'

"Little did I then realize . . ."

Dr. Davidson, 76, of Center City, who retired as an art history professor at Temple University's Tyler School of Art in May after a 43-year career there, died of sepsis Sunday, Dec. 18, at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.

At Harvard, he wrote on his Temple website, "I believed there was some secret thing I was destined to be. If I discovered this, I would be at the very top of things."

But if not, he wrote, "I would wind up a derelict on the streets."

A friend, Lynda Kerr, said Dr. Davidson graduated from Boston Latin School, a college prep, before going to Harvard, where he earned a bachelor's degree in architectural sciences in 1957.

He earned a master's degree in art history at Boston University in 1960, the same year he earned a bachelor's degree in Jewish education at what is now Hebrew College in Newton Centre, Mass.

Kerr said Dr. Davidson took evening classes at the college after his day classes at the university.

Dr. Davidson's art history doctorate was conferred at Columbia University in 1965.

Kerr said Dr. Davidson was a visiting lecturer in art history at the University of Iowa in 1963-64, an art history instructor at Wayne State University in 1964-65, and an assistant professor of art history at Oakland University in Rochester, Mich., from 1965 until he began his Temple University career in 1968. He became a full professor in 1974.

At Boston Latin, he wrote on the Temple website, "a great accomplishment of mine was winning a letter in cross country. Only ten letters were given. . . . I was the worst of the ten.

"I never came close to winning but finished every one of the 21/2-mile races."

Studying for his doctorate at Columbia, he decided to focus on American art. Since then, he wrote, "my research has centered on American painting from about 1860 to about 1940."

The Temple site for Dr. Davidson states that "the artists covered in five of his seven books fall in that period."

The site said Dr. Davidson's special interest was the American 'visionary' painters, whom he covered in his 1978 book, The Eccentrics and Other American Visionary Painters.

Another of his interests was early American modernists, covered in his 1981 book, Early American Modernist Painting, 1910-1935.

Dr. Davidson was also an amateur photographer whose work, Kerr said, was widely exhibited. His one-man shows, of scenes from Rittenhouse Square to Costa Rica to Israel, began at the Painted Bride in 1974 and ranged through galleries at Burlington County Community College, Villanova University, and others.

When he went to Tyler in 1968, he wrote in his website autobiography, "the key word used by students in my classes was relevant. 'Is this relevant to learn' they would ask."

"Now the question is whether something will be in an exam, relevant or not.

"But students seem more passionate about their work. . . . There are more exhibitions in Philadelphia than any time in my memory."

Dr. Davidson is survived by brothers Avi and Yair. The funeral was Monday, Dec. 19.

Contact staff writer Walter F. Naedele at 215-854-5607 or wnaedele@phillynews.com.

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