Blueprints in the Driskell Papers

Oftentimes, the most interesting things that we come across in the Driskell Papers are things that are a little out of the ordinary. As I was processing Series 3: Exhibitions, Sub-Series 3: Curated by David C. Driskell, I came across quite a few of these unique items; my favorite among them is a blueprint from the exhibition Contemporary Visual Expressions: The Art of Sam Gilliam, Martha Jackson-Jarvis, Keith Morrison and William T. Williams. This exhibition was curated by David C. Driskell in 1987 for what was then the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum of the Smithsonian Institution, now the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum. The exhibition ran from May 27-July 31, 1987 and was the first exhibition to show in the museum’s newly renovated building which added a level of importance to the opening events and the show itself.

The exhibition focused on the work of four artists: Sam Gilliam, Martha Jackson-Jarvis, Keith Morrison, and William T. Williams and Prof. Driskell curated the exhibition keeping in mind the urban environments of the artists: Gilliam, Jackson-Jarvis, and Morrison were Washington, DC-based, and Williams was New York City-based. As Prof. Driskell wrote in his Introduction for the exhibition catalogue: “This exhibition does not present itself thematically, nor does it represent all the myriad approaches with which these individual artists experiment. But these artists represent the soul of their urban environments, Washington, D.C. and New York City, and transform events and ideas to enliven our artistic sensibilities and contribute to our own understanding and development.” (Draft of Contemporary Visual Expressions Exhibition Catalogue by David C. Driskell (ca. 1987): Box 3, Folder 6, Page 12. David C. Driskell Papers: Exhibitions – Curated by David Driskell, David C. Driskell Center Archive.) The artists’ connections with their hometowns made this exhibition all the more meaningful.

The Driskell Papers contain many correspondences between the artists and Prof. Driskell and many programs, exhibition catalogue drafts, and artist information from Contemporary Visual Expressions. What made me excited, however, was this blueprint that represents the proposed layout of the exhibition. Though the document has faded over time, you can still make out the details which include the shape and description of a spiral sculpture from Martha Jackson-Jarvis, the names and locations of some of the artwork on the walls, and details of the floor plan for this exhibition hall in the then-new building.

Photo of blueprint for "Contemporary Visual Expressions" exhibition (March 4, 1987): Box 2, Folder 12. Driskell Papers: Exhibitions - Curated by David Driskell, David C. Driskell Center Archive.

Photo of blueprint for “Contemporary Visual Expressions” exhibition (March 4, 1987): Box 2, Folder 12. Driskell Papers: Exhibitions – Curated by David Driskell, David C. Driskell Center Archive.

Detail of blueprint for "Contemporary Visual Expressions" exhibition  showing sculpture installation plan for Martha Jackson-Jarvis and planned locations for some of William T. William's artwork (March 4, 1987): Box 2, Folder 12. Driskell Papers: Exhibitions - Curated by David Driskell, David C. Driskell Center Archive.

Detail of blueprint for “Contemporary Visual Expressions” exhibition showing sculpture installation plan for Martha Jackson-Jarvis and planned locations for some of William T. William’s artwork (March 4, 1987): Box 2, Folder 12. Driskell Papers: Exhibitions – Curated by David Driskell, David C. Driskell Center Archive.

There are other blueprints in this series that delve deeper into the plans for the renovation of the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum, but this particular one is the most interesting. Along with the related correspondence and project plans, this blueprint shows Prof. Driskell’s process of contemplating and presenting the works in the gallery and the artists’ and their works’ relationship to one another.

To see what else we have in the Driskell Papers about Contemporary Visual Expressions, see our PastPerfect website.

This post was written by Stephanie Maxwell, Archivist at the David C. Driskell Center Archives.

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