Tonight, the David C. Driskell Center will be opening the exhibition Alison Saar: Still…, an amazing collection of 11 sculptures by Alison Saar. The opening reception (which is free and open to the public) takes place this evening, September 12, 2013, from 5:00PM to 7:00PM and includes a gallery tour presented by Alison Saar herself. We are all very excited about this unique exhibition, and it has been fascinating to see how it has all come together in our gallery.
Seeing this exhibition has made me think of David Driskell’s relationship with African American sculptors as well as sculpture as a medium. The Deputy Director of the Driskell Center, Dorit Yaron, and I have pulled together a few letters and writings from the David C. Driskell Papers and arranged them in a display case that will accompany the Alison Saar: Still… exhibition. I hope that you’ll be able to stop by the gallery to see this outstanding exhibition and take a look at the interesting items we found in the Driskell Archive. Here is a sneak peek at what we found, including short descriptions of the items.
- “A Pan African Vision of Art in the Decade of the Twenties.” A speech written by Prof. David C. Driskell sometime in the 1980s which references Meta Warrick Fuller’s sculpture Ethiopia Awakening, c. 1921. Though we don’t know where this speech was given, what is unmistakable is Prof. Driskell’s eloquence on Fuller’s work. In this speech he says that Ethiopia Awakening, “…is the first clearly directed Pan-African statement to come from a Black visual artist working in America. The statement reduces itself to a particular charge. It seeks to make evident a union between Black Africa and Black America. Its thesis is the whole Black world, it says the diaspora must emerge. Black people must awaken—and claim their rightful place in the modern world.”
- Letter from David C. Driskell to Elizabeth Catlett, March 12, 1975 regarding her sculpture The Black Woman Speaks, 1970 which was included in the exhibition Narratives of African American Art and Identity, the David C. Driskell Collection, 1998. Catlett is very well represented in Prof. Driskell’s papers, and this specific letter is interesting for his praise of Catlett’s individual sculpture and work as a whole. He writes to Catlett asking to advise him in using her work in the show Black American Artists, 1750-1950, later re-titled Two Centuries of Black American Art, a seminal exhibition in Prof. Driskell’s curatorial career. He writes to Catlett, “Your work represents a milestone in the achievements of Black artists in the 20th century, and I shall want from you major works that will best represent your accomplishments.”
- Letter from Betye Saar to David C. Driskell, September 6, 1987. This letter is especially relevant to this exhibition as Betye Saar is the mother of Alison Saar. Betye Saar and David Driskell exchanged several letters during the late 1980s and early 1990s, discussing current events in art. This letter mentions Alison Saar and begins with Saar discussing a new exhibition: “The opening at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts was wonderful. Selma Burke, Claude Clark and Betty Catlett came to the reception, as well as art lovers from Philadelphia, New York and Washington D.C. We all missed you.” The David C. Driskell Papers contain correspondence with the artists mentioned here as well!
- Letter from David C. Driskell to Martin Puryear, March 7, 1989. Many of the letters I found between David Driskell and Martin Puryear discuss exchanges of one another’s artwork as well as the development each artist is experiencing in his own artwork. In this particular letter, Prof. Driskell is writing to Puryear about an exhibition he curated at the California Afro-American Museum in Los Angeles, entitled Introspectives: Contemporary Art by Americans and Brazilians of African Descent. This show included a sculpture by Puryear and many other well-known African American sculptors, such as Melvin Edwards and Martha Jackson-Jarvis In the letter to Puryear, Prof. Driskell describes the opening event: “I suspect that the tons of Brazilian and sould [sic] food along with the 11:00PM appearance of Oba Oba girls from Rio (all shaking and shimmering as though they had something arty to throw at every male viewer) didn’t lessen the swelling numbers.”
- “Bill Taylor: Recent Sculpture.” During Prof. Driskell’s time at Fisk University, he contributed to many catalogues for various exhibitions at the Fisk art gallery. There are three objects represented in this group. First is a foreword by David C. Driskell, written for the catalogue Bill Taylor: Recent Sculpture ca. 1967. Not only did Prof. Driskell often write forewords and introductions for the catalogues, he also designed many of the catalogues, including the catalogue for a 1967 exhibition of Bill Taylor: Recent Sculpture. In his typed and edited Foreword, Prof. Driskell discusses the life and work of sculptor Bill Taylor. Another object in this group is a document which shows Prof. Driskell’s rough sketched layout of his design for the catalogue— which provides us with a unique view of the creative process—as well as a photograph of the sculpture that is represented on the front cover of the catalogue. I love these particular objects because they exemplify what is so wonderful and unique about this collection.
You can see all of these archival materials in the display case in our lobby outside the gallery at the David C. Driskell Center. The Alison Saar: Still… exhibition opens today, September 12 and runs through December 13. You can learn more about Alison Saar and the exhibition here. We look forward to seeing you and to sharing some of the unique items from the archives with you!
This post was written by Stephanie Maxwell, Archivist at the David C. Driskell Center Archives.