A Folder Can Be More than Just a Folder

Sometimes, the most interesting things about the Driskell Papers aren’t contained in the correspondences and catalogues that David C. Driskell kept, but rather in the containers in which he kept them. As part of our project, we are replacing the folders that Prof. Driskell had used to organize his papers with acid-free, archival quality folders. This aspect of preservation is an important part of the process as the new folders will help to maintain the quality of the paper materials held within and will prevent deterioration.  We do other preservation acts that will help to stabilize the materials like putting mylar sleeves around photographs to keep them from fading, using acid-free white paper sleeves to house fragile or damaged documents, and putting all of the folders into Hollinger boxes which are acid-free and fit the folders perfectly so as to avoid bending. On a daily basis, we perform these small actions to make a big difference to the longevity of the papers.

Many of the folders that Prof. Driskell kept have folder titles, helping us to accurately know what is contained within, and many also have writings, scribblings, and notes on them. Molly Campbell, one of our Graduate Assistants, brought to my attention such a folder as she was pre-processing the sub-series on Prof. Driskell’s time at Fisk University. Prof. Driskell titled the folder “Carl Van Vec” which we can infer has to do with the Carl Van Vechten Gallery at Fisk University. The folder contains some articles about exhibitions at the Carl Van Vechten Gallery as well as some appraisals done for works in the gallery, and correspondences on behalf of the gallery. But what is most unique is the original folder that held these materials: 

"Carl Van Vec" Folder with Packing List (undated): Folder T-183-149. David C. Driskell Papers: Educator, David C. Driskell Center Archive.

“Carl Van Vec” Folder with Packing List (undated): Folder T-183-149. David C. Driskell Papers: Educator, David C. Driskell Center Archive.


The list on the front of this folder seems to be a packing list for a trip Prof. Driskell took to Jerusalem. We don’t have records of the exact dates of the trip, but we believe that it was in the fall of 1973. This list includes the necessities of travel like toiletries and a passport, but also some of the more individual things like the journal paper he carried with him and slides of his recent work, which allow us to piece together his motives and preparation for the trip. Looking at the way someone organizes not only their papers, but themselves can tell you a lot about a person. So much of what is in the Driskell Papers focuses on Prof. Driskell’s life as an educator, curator, artist, and scholar, but strewn among that are these glimpses into his personal life, as trivial as they may seem.

Because of the unique nature of this folder, it will be placed into a white paper folder kept with the materials it originally held and then placed into the new, acid-free folder. Keeping these materials together is important in the archival world, allowing for researchers to see the material as the owner once used it. Folders with writings on them can be found throughout the Driskell Papers, adding another layer of meaning to this already rich collection. 

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

Artists and Individuals: Highlighting David C. Driskell’s Correspondence with Artists

This post is written by Molly Campbell, a Graduate Assistant at the David C. Driskell Center Archive. Molly is a first-year student at the University of Maryland’s iSchool, focusing on Archives, Records, and Information Management and has been at the Driskell Center since June 2013. Molly recently finished processing the largest series within the Driskell Papers Series 5: Artists and Individuals. The post below highlights some of her experience and the interesting objects she found in the series.

Recently I finished processing Series 5: Artists and Individuals, which is one of the largest series in the David C. Driskell Papers. It is primarily comprised of correspondence David C. Driskell shared with fellow artists, colleagues, clients, students, and friends, but also contains writings, exhibition catalogues, photographs, and ephemera related to these individuals.  I found this series to be particularly exciting because it chronicles the many relationships Prof. Driskell cultivated over the span of his career as an artist, curator, and academic. Moreover, these records evidence his emergence as one of the leading authorities on African American Art. As a whole, this series is a valuable resource which provides insight into Prof. Driskell’s personal and professional life, and furthermore demonstrates his commitment to the advancement of African American art into the mainstream culture.

When Archivist Stephanie Maxwell first asked me to write this blog post I was excited to share my experiences working on this series, but was unsure how to thoughtfully convey the significance of Artists and Individuals. I decided that the best way to highlight this series is by choosing a single record and reflecting on its evidentiary value as a historical document. After some searching I choose a letter that Prof. Driskell wrote to the artist Claude Clark (b. 1915 – d. 2001) in July 1969. Clark is also represented in the exhibition Narratives of African American Art and Identity and his work in that exhibition can be seen here. I selected this correspondence because it offers a glimpse into the relationship Prof. Driskell and Clark cultivated first as colleagues and later as friends. In the letter Prof. Driskell thanks Clark for hosting him while he visited California and for showing him the art scene in the Bay area. Prof. Driskell obviously enjoyed spending time with Clark and respected him as an artist and friend—an aspect that an archival researcher would find significant and revealing.

Letter from David C. Driskell to Claude Clark (July 14, 1969): Box 7, Folder 11. David C. Driskell Papers: Artists and Individuals, David C. Driskell Center Archive.

Letter from David C. Driskell to Claude Clark (July 14, 1969): Box 7, Folder 11. David C. Driskell Papers: Artists and Individuals, David C. Driskell Center Archive.

There are a number of other important points in this letter that reveal interesting facets of Prof. Driskell’s life. For example, Prof. Driskell mentions that he had just received a letter from the artist, and mutual friend, Jacob Lawrence who was teaching at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine that summer. This detail is remarkable because it further highlights the connections that tied these significant individuals together and indicates the ways in which they may have influenced one another.  I found this passage especially poignant because camaraderie is a persistent theme throughout this series as many of the correspondences show how artists represented in this series supported each other as colleagues and friends. Furthermore, the series as a whole reveals the milieu in which artists—particularly those of minority background—lived and worked in. All together the series documents the growth of African American art in the 20th century through the experiences and words of Prof. Driskell.

I thoroughly enjoyed processing Artists and Individuals and am thrilled that the series is now open for research use. I hope that you will come visit the Archive and take advantage of its valuable resources. I have recently begun arranging Series 2: Educator, which focuses on Prof. Driskell’s role as an educator and mentor.  I look forward to writing about that series on the blog when I finish in the following months!

Major Progress in Driskell Papers

Despite the snow and wintry weather we’ve had in Maryland over the past few weeks, the David C. Driskell Center Archives staff has been hard at work. We have a lot of goals for this Spring semester, and we recently accomplished two of those goals as our Graduate Assistants Nick Beste and Molly Campbell completed processing Series 4: African American Art and Diaspora and Series 5: Artists and Individuals, respectively. These series are two of the larger ones in the David C. Driskell Papers, and Nick and Molly have worked tirelessly to organize, describe, and preserve the materials that fall into those series. I am happy to report that all the records for the materials in these series are available through our PastPerfect database and are accompanied by descriptions of the series.

Graduate Assistant Nick Beste has been processing the African American Art and Diaspora series (or AAAD as it’s referred to here in the Archives) which pulls together the various materials that Prof. Driskell collected over six decades that helped to inform his own research and lessons as well as the materials for events and exhibitions he attended and/or was invited to. I’ve written about part of this series here, focusing on the Ephemera sub-series, but this series is comprised of a lot more than just ephemera.  As a group, these materials are a great resource for studying the evolution of art and art-related events over the 60 years that Prof. Driskell collected the items. AAAD is split into four sub-series which pull together materials by their function or format:

This series as a whole gives the researcher a first-hand look at what Prof. Driskell found interesting or helpful in his studies and teachings and in his personal life.  It adds a layer of connection to the Driskell Papers.

Our Graduate Assistant Molly Campbell has been working on arranging and describing the Artists and Individuals series since she started working at the Driskell Center Archives. Easily the most complicated and difficult series to process, she’s done a wonderful job making the correspondence that Prof. Driskell has had with various artists, scholars, and individuals in the art community accessible and easy to find. I’ve written about some of the wonderful things to be found in the Artists and Individuals series here, here, here, and here, and in the next few weeks Molly will be writing a post about her experience processing the series and some of the interesting things she found while she was doing it.

As Spring Break approaches, we are in good shape to achieve our goals for this semester. Molly has started arranging Series 2: Educator, which concentrates on Prof. Driskell’s role as a professor, and I have begun to enter information into PastPerfect about the records we have on his role as a curator from Series 3: Exhibitions.  And as these paper materials start coming together, we’ll begin looking at our Audio/Visual and Photographic Materials!

Thank you for staying tuned to the news on the David C. Driskell Papers—it’s a very exciting time here, and we’re looking forward to hopefully seeing many of you as you use the collection!

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

Archives for the Public

Last week, I had the privilege to represent the David C. Driskell Center at the 22nd Joint National Conference of the National Association of African American Studies and Affiliates in Baton Rouge, Louisiana conference where I gave a presentation about the Driskell Center and Archives. It was a great experience, not only to represent the Center and to talk to people about the work we are doing, but also to attend some of the sessions and learn more about what scholars in the field of African American Studies are passionate about.

The presentation I gave was entitled David C. Driskell’s Legacy of Scholarship in Africa American Art & Culture discussed the life of Prof. Driskell, the mission, goals, and activities of the Driskell Center, and highlighted the Driskell Center Archives as a unique and thriving resource for scholars. During the presentation, there was a nice crowd who asked really interesting questions and sparked some great conversation.

One of the topics of discussion revolved around the idea that museums are for the public. Someone asked how museums can reach out and engage the general public more effectively; more specifically, how museums can continue to be available, interesting, and relevant to the public. The Driskell Center continues to do this as a Center with art and archives collections, but it made me consider how we can apply this idea to archives in general. Though archives tend to be used more by scholars and researchers than by the general public, the hidden treasures that the Driskell Center holds really belong to everyone. The question is: how can we expose these things to the public and what methods should be used to make these archival materials meaningful outside of exclusively scholarly study?  How can Archivists explain this context and value to the general public outside the realm of academia?

I like to think that this blog helps to break down that barrier, making some of the most intriguing items in our collection more visible and accessible, explaining their importance in the collection and the context that surrounds it. Another way that we have been trying to make the archives more accessible—both intellectually and physically—is through our archival displays that accompany the exhibitions in the gallery. Through these displays, we hope to show the personal story behind the artwork or artist and give even more context through real, primary sources and make the art come alive even more.

This idea, of making archives more accessible to the general public, is one that is becoming more and more relevant as archives continue to grow and collect and find their audience. As we continue to process the Driskell Papers and make them more accessible, I’m always happy to hear about how you might like to interact with the archives and in what ways you might find that outreach meaningful, so feel free to leave comments on this post!

PS: Recently, I submitted an article about the Driskell Papers project to the MARAC Mid-Atlantic Archivist Newsletter, and you can see it in the Winter 2014 edition here!

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

New Archives Display for “Heroes: Gone But Not Forgotten – The Art of Charles White”

Tonight, the David C. Driskell Center will be opening its newest exhibition, Heroes: Gone But Not Forgotten – The Art of Charles White which is a collection of the works by the artist Charles White from the Arthur Primas Collection and the David C. Driskell Center Collection. The exhibition features drawings, prints, and paintings that represent the work of one of the most outstanding American artists.

I really enjoy when we have new exhibitions in the Center because it means I get to peruse the archive to find documents for our archives display. With our last exhibition Alison Saar: Still… we focused on David C. Driskell’s relationship with various sculptors since that was the first exhibition featuring only sculptures that we had in our gallery. For this exhibition, it was exciting to focus on only one artist, Charles White, who had a long, steadfast relationship with David C. Driskell.

Within the Driskell Papers’ Artist and Individuals series are several folders dedicated to Charles White. Prof. Driskell and Charles White exchanged letters, which Prof. Driskell kept with several articles and exhibition catalogues about White’s work. I’ve pulled together some of the highlights from these folders and placed them in a display case placed underneath White’s work “I Have a Dream.” The photographs that are included in the display show White working on this piece. Below is a sneak peek of what I found and placed in the display case.


Archives display for “Heroes: Gone But Not Forgotten – The Art of Charles White.” January 2014. Courtesy of the David C. Driskell Center.

  1. Photographs of Charles White in his studio, c. 1975. These photos were taken while White was being interviewed for the film that accompanied Two Centuries of Black American Art, 1750-1950. Prof. Driskell visited Charles White in his Pasadena, CA studio to conduct White’s interview which appears at the end of the Two Centuries film, which we also have playing on a television in the gallery. The photographs capture White working on his piece “I Have a Dream” in great detail which highlights his technique and style.
  2. Letter from David C. Driskell to Charles White, December 29, 1977. This letter is written by Prof. Driskell to White and I think it’s so interesting that I’m including an image of it below:


    Letter from David C. Driskell to Charles White (November 29, 1977): Box 44, Folder 25. David C. Driskell Papers: Artists and Individuals, David C. Driskell Center Archive.

  3. Funeral Program for Charles White, November 4, 1979. White passed away on October 3, 1979 at the age of 61. To celebrate his life, there was a “Memorial Jubilee” which featured performances by choirs, a retrospective on his life, and remarks by many people including Betye Saar and Sidney Poitier.
  4. Charles White: Drawings, an exhibition catalogue, 1967. Among the catalogs Driskell kept in his papers are several that feature Charles White in his collection. This particular catalogue is from an exhibition that traveled to Howard University, Morgan State University, and Fisk University in 1967 and has a foreword and introduction written by James A. Porter who was one of Prof. Driskell’s mentors at Howard University.

Heroes: Gone But Not Forgotten – The Art of Charles White is an exhibition that you will not want to miss! Please join us tonight, January 30, 2014 from 5-7PM for our opening reception (no RSVP required) or come to see the exhibition before it closes on May 23, 2014. I hope that you will have a chance to join us either tonight at the opening reception or throughout the course of the exhibition as we celebrate the exquisite work of Charles White. You can learn more about Charles White and the exhibition here. We look forward to seeing you!

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

David C. Driskell at Fisk University’s The Carl Van Vechten Gallery

Welcome back to the David C. Driskell Archives Blog! We hope you had a wonderful holiday season and a Happy New Year. We’ve had a nice break over the holidays and the Archives Staff is looking forward to bringing you more interesting tidbits from the David C. Driskell Papers in 2014!

Before the break, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet with David C. Driskell at his beautiful home in Hyattsville. Though I had met Prof. Driskell in person before, our conversations had all been very brief; but during this meeting, we were able to discuss the Driskell Papers at length. I updated him on the progress we’re making and asked some important questions that will help us to be able to better understand and present the collection.

Prof. Driskell was kind enough to answer my questions about some of the records that I’ve been working on in the Exhibitions series, one of which touched on his role at Fisk University. Prof. Driskell was a Professor of Art and Chairman of the Department of Art at Fisk University from 1966-1977, during which time he curated several exhibitions at The Carl Van Vechten Gallery. Many of the exhibition catalogues in Driskell Paper from Fisk University’s Carl Van Vechten Gallery have an Introduction or Foreword by Prof. Driskell, but few of them explicitly mention a curator. I asked about his role in the exhibitions and he said that for a gallery such as The Carl Van Vechten Gallery during that time and with limited staff, it was often the role of the curator to write the catalogue, curate the show, and do much of the administrative work and planning that goes along with mounting an exhibition. Though many of the exhibitions were on a smaller scale than some of the others he curated later in his career, the effort it must have taken to produce these exhibitions while being a full-time professor must have been one of great dedication and time. His explanation was eye-opening to me, providing information on the role of gallery’s director and curator.

After speaking with Prof. Driskell about this aspect of his career, I found this item in the Driskell Papers:


Left photograph: a compilation of twenty-one of the 5-10 page exhibition catalogues that were products of the shows that Prof. Driskell curated or where his art was featured while he was at Fisk University. Right photograph: an example of one of these catalogues. (“Afro-American Art Series 1966-1976 David C. Driskell Fisk University” (1966-1976). David C. Driskell Papers: Exhibitions, David C. Driskell Center Archive. Photograph courtesy of the David C. Driskell Center.

The photograph above shows the exhibition catalogues for exhibitions that Prof. Driskell was involved in at Fisk University during his time there. The David C. Driskell Papers hold these and other exhibition catalogues which are great resources for those who want to see how Prof. Driskell’s curatorial career developed as well as for those who are interested in the evolution of exhibitions on African American art and artists. What is clear from this collection is that during his time at Fisk University, Prof. Driskell was able to really begin to hone his curatorial skills and present exhibitions on African American artists to the greater public.

Speaking of exhibitions, we’re looking forward to the opening of the exhibition Charles White – Heroes: Gone But Not Forgotten. The Archives will have a display in the gallery that will accompany this powerful exhibition, so please come by and check it out! The exhibition opens on January 30, 2014 with a reception at 5:00PM.

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

Reflections on 2013 in the David C. Driskell Center Archives

December is a time when I like to reflect on the past year, so I have been thinking about what we have accomplished, what still needs to be done, and how we can improve our work in the David C. Driskell Archive.  I am very happy with the way things have been progressing with the David C. Driskell Papers: our Graduate Assistants Nick Beste and Molly Campbell have worked diligently to process several series within the Papers, we have streamlined our processes as we continue on with our project, and we have achieved many of our goals for 2013. One of the accomplishments I am most proud of is the online availability of records for several of our series and sub-series, including:

Series 3: Exhibitions, Sub-Series 4: Personal Art Collection
Series 4: African American Art and Diaspora, Sub-Series 2: Ephemera
Series 4: African American Art and Diaspora, Sub-Series 3: Exhibition Catalogues
Series 5: Artists and Individuals (which will be completely processed by the end of January 2014)
Series 8: Organizations

I am very excited to see what 2014 will bring and I hope that you continue to follow us here on the blog as we update you on new and exciting finds, alert you to the newest materials available for research, and highlight interesting aspects of David C. Driskell’s life.

As the year comes to a close, I hope that you’ll look back at some of our posts. Some of the ones that really put the David C. Driskell Papers into perspective for me have been “‘An Idyll of the Deep South’ and David C. Driskell’s Discussion with Aaron Douglas,” “David C. Driskell as Mentor and Mentee,” and “Artists and Individuals: Romare Bearden’s Funeral Program.”

As we move forward with processing the David C. Driskell Papers, our staff will work to provide even more posts and updates that inform and enlighten. We would love to hear from you about what you have found interesting or what you’d like to see in the coming year, so please feel free to leave comments on this post!

The David C. Driskell Archives staff wishes you and yours a happy, healthy, and enjoyable holiday season! We look forward to continuing to blog after the holidays in January 2014.

PS: Stay tuned to the David C. Driskell Center website to hear about our upcoming exhibition Charles White – Heroes: Gone But Not Forgotten, which opens on January 30, 2014. The Archives will be putting together a display similar to what we produced for the Alison Saar: Still exhibition, so we’ll post about that soon!

PPS: The David C. Driskell Center will be closed from December 24, 2013 through January 1, 2014. The Center will reopen on January 2, 2014 at 9:00AM.

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