BIOGRAPHICAL TIMELINE

1926
Born on February 25, Springfield, Illinois, to parents Eva Munson Byrd (1901–1989) and Farrister Leonard Byrd (1890–1940).

1932
Father leaves household. Drifts around, eventually is admitted to mental hospital.

1938
Mother abandons David and three brothers (William, Weldon and Carlyle) and two sisters (Mary
and Sadie). Children are sent by Children’s Service League to a local foster home for care.

1939
Second foster home, also in Springfield.

1940
Father dies of drowning, Quincy, Mississippi. David and his brother Carlyle attend funeral
in Quincy.

1941
Third foster home in Springfield.

1942
Mother gathers children to her Brooklyn home when David is 15. She supports them by working as a ticket seller in a movie theater.

1943–45
David joins the Merchant Marine when he is 17 and is sent to Iran, North Africa, France, around the Mediterranean, Taiwan and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Spends most of his time aboard ship as a steward. Draws portraits of shipmates, officers.

1947
David is drafted, and sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for field artillery training. Honorably discharged after one year.

1948
Makes drawings of boxers at Stillman’s Gym on Eighth Avenue in New York City.

1948–58
Holds odd jobs in a liquor store, as a delivery man, usher in a movie house and janitor. Also works on Coney Island for a few summers, bartending at a resort. Mostly low-status jobs, allowing him time to paint.

1949–51
Under GI Bill, studies art for a short time at the Dolphin School of Art, a GI-sponsored program in Philadelphia. Transfers to New York to study at the Ozenfant School of Fine Arts to learn art foundation skills. Studies with Ozenfant for two years. (Amédée Ozenfant was a Parisian painter, influenced by Paul Signac and Le Corbusier, and immigrated to the U.S. in 1938.)

1950–58
Moves back to Brooklyn with mother and brother Weldon.

1958–69
Lives briefly in Montrose, near Newburg and Washingtonville, NY. While living near Newburg he spends time collecting architectural relics from abandoned homes and businesses.

1958–88
Works as orderly in psychiatric ward at Veteran’s Administration Medical Hospital, Montrose, NY.

1964–69
Lives on grounds of V.A. hospital for a time. Begins to salvage wood from abandoned properties in the area to use for eventual home and studio in Sidney Center, NY.

1967–77
Marries Shirley Silverman, a nurse at the V.A., and lives in Washingtonville, NY. She has three grown children from previous marriage. Purchases 1765 stone house with clapboard-sided addition for residence. Works on restoring house in free time. Drives two hours back and forth daily for work at V.A. hospital. Many scenes of mountains, hills, rivers and bridges seen from commute are depicted in later landscape pictures.

1977
Divorces Silverman. Moves to a small one-bedroom apartment in New Windsor, NY. Lives, works and paints there for 11 years.

1989
Mother dies at age 88 outside Cleveland, Ohio.

1988–92
Moves to Sidney Center, NY. Purchases 11 acres, including a small hunting shack on property. Builds stone foundation for his home. Lives in hunting shack during construction. Begins
carving wood figures from trees on his land.

1992–93
Starts work on framing and building home.

1994
With home complete and livable, Byrd begins to paint full time from memories and prior sketches covering various times of his life, notably his time working at the V.A. hospital among mentally ill veterans of WWII, Korean War and Vietnam War. Spends most of this time alone, working and painting.

2009–12
Begins occasional day trips via bus lines to New York City and Boston.

2012
Meets neighbor and fellow artist Jody Isaacson. Has exhibition with five other local artists organized by Maywood Arts at local Schoolhouse Gallery in Sidney Center.

2013
First solo exhibition at Greg Kucera Gallery, Seattle, April 4–May 18. Diagnosed with lung cancer, has radiation treatment. Dies May 30, from complications related to cancer, at the New York State Veterans Home in Oxford, NY.

back to BIO